Kicking off a weeklong U.S. visit with a massive, festive rally at the Houston Texans’ football stadium Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi bestowed his unconditional blessing on President Donald Trump as a great and good man who “has left a deep and lasting impact everywhere” and who is making good on his promise to make America great again.
“We have met a few times and every time he has been warm, friendly, accessible, energetic and full of wit,” Modi said before an electric crowd of some 50,000 Indian Americans at NRG Stadium, cataloguing Trump’s “sense of leadership, a passion for America, a concern for every American, a belief in the American future and a strong resolve to make America great again. And he has already made the American economy strong again. He has achieved much for the U.S. and for the world.”
Trump repaid the kindness. He warmly praised Modi and his efforts to transform the world’s second largest nation and largest democracy — building roads, installing some 80 million toilets, cornering the market on affordable data, which Modi described as “the new oil … the new gold” — making him a hero to the Indian Hindu diaspora in America, many of them immigrants and the children of immigrants.
Trump extolled the virtues of those Indian Americans in the stadium and across the nation who looked to Sunday’s rally in Houston as history-making.
“We are especially grateful to be joined by over 50,000 incredible members of our nation’s thriving, prospering, flourishing and hard-working Indian American community,” Trump said, at least by implication comparing them to the “illegal immigrants” who he said come to America looking for the “free benefits” he said Democrats want to offer them.
“I’ve also come to express my profound gratitude to the nearly 4 million amazing Indian Americans all across America,” Trump said. “You enrich our culture. You uphold our values. You uplift our communities and you are truly proud to be Americans and we are proud to have you as Americans.”
Of Modi, Trump, a year away from his own reelection test, noted that, “Just a few months ago, in the largest democratic election in the history of our world, 600 million Indians went to the polls and voted overwhelmingly for Prime Minister Modi and his party.”
Sense of pride
While it was a rally featuring Trump, probably his largest ever, it was not a Trump rally, and, politically, all the better for him.
If the typical Trump rally draws a mostly white crowd, and is prone to the kind of rhetorical excesses that can turn off everyone but his base, here was Trump addressing a rapt crowd of South Asian immigrants and their progeny. Here was the leader of an even larger nation introducing him with the kind of encomiums that left it altogether unnecessary for the president to blow his own horn.
“Millions are glued to the TV, even though it is rather late on a Sunday night in India,” Modi said of the rally’s importance.
“If anything, I think Trump is going to get a lot of kudos,” said Sujal Nanavati, executive director of Global eCommerce and Marcom Technology at Hewlett Packard in Austin, who came to the rally with his wife, Binny.
During the rally, Binny Nanavati said, “We were talking to maybe 150 friends and family members through social media,” in India and across the United States, all hungry for firsthand details.
“I was overjoyed. It was so exhilarating,” said Nanavati. “I have not felt that much pride in such a long time.”
And Modi’s words about Trump’s personal qualities — positive characterizations she had never heard before — changed the way Nanvati, who formerly directed diversity and inclusion efforts at Dell, and who before the rally gave the president a thumbs-down, thinks about Trump.
The Nanavatis’ friend, Rakesh Thakkar, who works for Dell Technologies in Round Rock, said Trump’s approach Sunday could reap results.
“If he is now starting to go to these kind of events, then I think would be easy to pull the community to him,” Thakkar said. “OK, you are for us, we are for you.”
Throughout the rally, Modi and Trump sought to align their interests — reducing bureaucracy, protecting borders and fighting terrorism, and, by name, Islamic terrorism, with Modi telling the crowd, “Let’s give him a standing ovation for his commitment to fighting terrorism.”
Modi won cheers when he described his crackdown in Kashmir, stripping the flashpoint border region with Pakistan of its semi-autonomy and effectively shutting the region off from the rest of the world.
The rally drew some 5,000 protesters outside, who consider Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism a threat to the rights of Muslims living in Kashmir and in India proper.
“Our people are dying as a result of Modi’s crackdown on the region and members of Kashmiri American diaspora are desperate to hear from their loved ones,” said Dr. Wasim Dar, associate professor of surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, McGovern Medical School, and co-chairman of Americans for Kashmir.
Sameer Shah, president of the Indian American Coalition of Texas, a nonpartisan Austin-based organization that works to increase Indian American civic engagement, had mixed feelings about the event. Shah said it was undoubtedly a “watershed event that will go down in history,” but speaking for himself, and not for the organization, Shah said he is disturbed the turn to nationalism in both India and the United States, a direction he hopes voters in both nations will reverse in future elections.
Shah traveled to and from Houston on Sunday on one of five buses that departed from the Swaminarayan Temple, a Hindu temple in North Austin.
Altogether, 2,200 Indian Americans from the Austin area registered for the event.
©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
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