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How leaders profit from Howdy

In Texas alone there are about 27,000 Indian-Americans.

Kalyani Shankar | New Delhi |

The “Howdy, Modi! Shared Dreams, Bright Futures” mega diaspora event at the sprawling NRG Stadium, in Houston today (September 22) will be an opportunity for both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump to use the occasion to their political advantage. It is indeed a historic occasion when leaders of the world’s two biggest democracies address a crowd of 50,000 Indian-Americans.

The event is the Prime Minister’s third major address in the US to the Indian Diaspora since 2014 and the first after he won the elections for a second time in May. The first was in Madison Square Garden, New York in 2014 and the second in Silicon Valley in 2016. Modi’s invitation to Trump to share the dais at the community event organised by the Texas India Forum and the latter’s acceptance is seen as a win-win proposition for both leaders. The joint appearance, the first of its kind, signifies the robustness of growing US-India ties.

White House, announcing the trip, said it would be a great opportunity to emphasise strong ties between people of the US and India, to reaffirm the strategic partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies and to discuss ways to deepen their energy and trade relationship. There have been several signals from both the leaders of their growing personal chemistry in recent times. In the past three months, the two have met twice – at the G-20 and G-7 summits.

There will be another in New York next week. The bipartisan consensus around the relationship remains firm as evident from the presence of over 60 prominent US lawmakers from both sides including US Senator for Texas John Cornyn, Senator Ted Cruz, Congressman Al Green, and US Representative Pete Olson; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, US Representative Sylvia Garcia and Texas Governor Greg Abbot. While Prime Minister Modi is riding on his triumph after his impressive win recently for a second term, Trump will be facing the presidential elections next year.

How does the event help Modi? First of all, Howdy Modi is his biggest event to date in a foreign country. It proves his continued focus on the Indian Diaspora in his second term. He has cultivated them in a big way. Trump gracing the occasion can also be seen as evidence of the growing clout of the Diaspora. Secondly, it is a diplomatic triumph for Modi to stand beside the US President in a community-organized mega event. It is a major boost to India’s standing and image and a huge support for the PM personally. This realignment of Indian-American politics will be accelerated with the mega event.

Trump’s participation also symbolizes that ties remains intact and the strategic partnership continues to grow despite some tensions like the trade conflict. It has raised hopes that the differences might be sorted out. Thirdly, the optics will send a strong signal of Trump’s support to India, particularly a few weeks after the revocation of Article 370 pertaining to special status for Kashmir, even as Pakistan has protested against it and has taken the controversy to the UN and UN Human Rights Commission. Though Trump talks of both Modi and Imran Khan as his friends, it is a snub to Khan who is trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

Earlier, at the G-7 Summit in August, Trump had stated that the US considers Kashmir a bilateral issue while Khan has sought mediation from the US President. Fifthly, the joint appearance shows the growing stature of India and also Modi globally. He has found a place at the high table. As for President Trump, like all politicians he is a person who looks after his own interests first. Modi had sounded Trump on the sidelines of the G-7 summit and after going back the President weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided that it would be to his advantage if he participated.

Of course Modi had shared the dais with some world leaders earlier but the US President is very unusual. Secondly, Trump will be facing presidential elections next year and he is concerned at his declining popularity. The event could be an ideal platform to address affluent Indian- American voters, who form about a fifth of 20 million Asian Americans. In Texas alone there are about 27,000 Indian-Americans. Indians by and large support the Democrats and all five Indian-origin lawmakers in the US Congress today are Democrats.

In the 2016 US presidential polls, 89 per cent Indian- Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. Given that, Trump must be thinking whatever dent he can make is good as every vote counts in his bid for a second term. So the mega event benefits both India and the US as well as Trump and Modi personally.