“I present to you my family of 50,000”: Modi to Trump
HOUSTON(TIP): Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s community reception in Houston on September 22 turned out to be an election rally for US President Donald Trump whom Modi described as “my friend” and “India’s friend”. Modi heaped praises on Trump for having strengthened American economy and providing leadership to world. Trump reciprocated with a list of achievements of Modi a little later before inviting Modi to speak. It was quid pro quo of the finest order.
Amid chants of “Modi, Modi”, Prime Minister endorsed Trump for 2020 US Presidency when he said “Abki Baar Trump Sarkar”, reminding the gathering of Indian Americans of the chant during recent general elections in India earlier this year where the chant was “Abki baar Modi Sarkar”. Modi a little later , inviting Trump to address the gathering said that Trump had introduced his family to him when he had visited the White House during his last visit to the US, and he was now presenting to him “my family of 50,000”, to the great delight of the man who loves crowds and applause.
At hand were about 60 lawmakers belonging to both the Republican and the Democratic Party.
An estimated 50, 000 strong crowd went hysteric whenever Trump praised Modi or later, when Modi spoke about India’s strength and resolve to deal with a hostile Pakistan.
Trump sat in the front row as the Indian prime minister told cheering crowds his decision to remove all autonomy from Indian-administered Kashmir would bring progress and better rights for its people.
India has faced international criticism over its actions in Kashmir. Thousands of people have reportedly been detained, and access to mobile or internet services has been severed for millions of people in a communications blackout, part of a security clampdown in the wake of Delhi’s decision.
The rally, on Sunday, marked the first time Modi had discussed the decision to remove Kashmir’s special status on a world stage, and followed months of fierce rhetoric from Pakistan, which also claims the disputed region and has sought to raise the issue with the UN.
Without directly naming Pakistan, Modi accused the country of “hatred towards India” and of supporting terrorism.
“Whether it is the 9/11 attack in America or the 26/11 attack in Mumbai, where are its conspirators found?
“The time has come for a decisive fight against terrorism and those who support terrorism,” he said. “I want to stress here that President Trump is standing firmly against this.”
Trump, who was given a rapturous welcome at the event, said he was committed to protecting “innocent civilians from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism”.
About 50,000 Indian Americans attended the “Howdy Modi!” rally, where crowds chanted “Modi! Modi! Modi!” as he took to the stage, following a 90-minute cultural program featuring 400 dancers.
Trump, introduced by Modi as “my friend, a friend of India, a great American president”, was given a standing ovation at the event in Houston, a Democratic stronghold in Republican-dominated Texas. Houston is expected to be a critical battleground in Trump’s 2020 re-election bid.
Modi, who was re-elected this year with a thumping majority, enjoys wide support among Indians both at home and abroad, especially among the middle classes, said Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based thinktank. “He is extremely popular, particularly when it comes to the Indian diaspora in the US where there is a lot of Gujarati diaspora, from his home state,” he said.
The rally was held as Kashmir remains under a security crackdown, apparently to prevent unrest. Outside the stadium, protesters accused Modi’s government of human rights abuses against Kashmiris.
Iltija Mufti, the daughter of the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, said on Twitter: “While people in Kashmir have been gagged, mass hysteria is orchestrated elsewhere to justify this decision.” Her mother was among thousands reportedly detained as part of a crackdown by security services.
Modi’s speech came just days before the UN general assembly’s meeting in New York, where the Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, is expected to accuse Modi of being complicit in torture and mass detention in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Michael Kugelman, a south Asia expert at the Wilson Center, in Washington DC, said while Modi generally preferred to keep quiet about Kashmir with global audiences, it was unsurprising that he had raised the issue in Texas.
“I think he wanted to try to blunt international criticism by demonstrating just how popular the move [to remove Kashmir’s special status] was among Indians — including Indian Americans in the US,” said Kugelman. “And indeed his comment got louder applause than just about anything he or Trump said during the whole event.”
Though the scrapping of Kashmir’s special status faces major opposition within the region, it is widely supported elsewhere in India.
It was unsurprising an Indian leader would criticize Pakistan in a political speech, said Kugelman, but he added: “It is significant that Modi did so with Trump seated right in front of him, and at a moment when the US-Pakistan relationship has enjoyed a renaissance thanks to Islamabad’s help with Taliban talks in Afghanistan.”
(With inputs from Agencies)