Modi visit to US: Trump appearance signals importance of India

Source: BBC News

22nd September 2019

 

Modi and Trump

Five years ago, when Narendra Modi first stepped on US soil as India’s prime minister to chants of his name and “Hail Mother India”, many called it audacious.

The rock star reception at New York’s Madison Square Garden resembled a victory lap for a leader who had been denied entry into the US for almost a decade.

This Sunday, the Indian leader will address a far bigger crowd of supporters at an event in Houston, Texas, and standing next to him will be the president of the United States – a visual that many believe will help Mr Modi shrug off some of the international criticism over his controversial move on Kashmir.

The event, aptly titled “Howdy, Modi!”, is expected to attract a crowd of more than 50,000, the largest gathering of Modi supporters outside India, at the NRG Stadium.

The first-of-its-kind joint appearance is being hailed as a PR triumph for Mr Modi, but it also testifies to the growing importance of US-India relations.

“I think this was in some ways inevitable and reflects the strength of the Indian-American community,” says Nisha Biswal, former Assistant Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

She says it’s a good thing that the president has decided to go to Texas.

“This relationship now transcends individuals and it transcends politics,” added Ms Biswal, who now heads the US-India Business Council.

The organisers, Texas India Forum, have tried to emphasise the bipartisan nature of the event by inviting prominent Democrats including the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, several other Congressmen, US elected officials, and governors.

The choice of Houston as the spot for this rally is not surprising either.

India is Houston’s fourth-largest trading partner and its growing energy demand is expected to further boost the sale of American oil and gas. For India, it’s also an opportunity to bring down the trade deficit with the United States – a major issue for Mr Trump.

Modi speech in New Delhi as he celebrates Independence Day

There are also strong indications to suggest that the two countries may announce some progress toward ironing out the strong trade differences witnessed in the last year-and-a-half.

“If this happens, there will be talks about winning and the President would want to take credit for that,” says Tanvi Madan, India Project director at Washington’s Brookings Institute.

For President Trump, who himself is a big fan of spectacles and huge crowds, the mega event also provides an opportunity to court Indian-Americans for next year’s Presidential election.

Talking to reporters, the President said: “He’s got a big crowd coming and I guess the crowd just got a lot bigger because they just announced – he asked, would I go, and I will go”.

With a population of more than 3.2 million, Indian-Americans comprise 1% of the US population and are also among the wealthiest communities in the US.

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