Leaders of the oldest and largest democracies being greeted by thousands of supporters in Houston has domestic and international implications
A number of American elected leaders from the national and local level from across the United States are going to be there when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi steps on stage, either with President Donald Trump at his side, or greeting the U.S. head of state when he arrives at the massive NRG Stadium in Houston, Sept. 22.
The main organizers, Texas India Forum, have contended it is the largest community meeting ever held for the leader of another country or even the Pope, and they estimate more than 50,000 Indian-Americans and others from around the country will be at the event with a catchy Texan ring, “Howdy, Modi!”
The White House confirmed Sept. 15, that President Trump will be joining Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston to “underscore” the important bilateral partnership, at the highly anticipated Howdy, Modi! event scheduled to be held Sept. 22.
The event, “Howdy, Modi! Shared Dreams, Bright Futures,”… will be a great opportunity to emphasize the strong ties between the people of the United States 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,” the White House said.
“It is great sign for Indian-Americans and the country that our President has decided to join Prime Minister Modi, the leader of the largest democracy and rising economic power, India, at the historic community event in Houston” – Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media, told Desi Talk.
Organizers refused to confirm news reports citing that about “60” bipartisan lawmakers were attending the event.
“A bipartisan group of lawmakers is coming. That I can confirm,” said Rishi Bhutada, public relations and media co-coordinator for the event. But Bhutada said the total number of lawmakers coming could not be confirmed yet.
Meanwhile, incorrect media reports are flying fast and furious. Even the few names listed as attendees, such as Congressman Ami Bera, D-California, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, are incorrect. Bera’s Congressional office confirmed to this writer that the California lawmaker had never planned to go and it was not clear how his name appeared in media reports. Desi Talk got a similar response from Rep. Engel’s office. “He’s not going. We (Congress) are in session,” a spokesperson told Desi Talk. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, “was never confirmed for the event,” her office said, adding that she had conveyed regrets to organizers almost a month ago, on Aug. 19.
“The Congresswoman recognizes the importance of a strong U.S.-India partnership, and sends her best wishes to Prime Minister Modi for a successful visit to America,” her spokesperson told Desi Talk.
While Prime Minister Modi’s appearance alone might have attracted more bipartisan supporters even though several American lawmakers have expressed reservations about events in Kashmir, such as Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, the injection of President Trump into the equation, may hold others back on domestic ideological grounds as well.
However, M.R. Rangaswami, founder of the Indian-American organization IndiaSpora, is an Independent and indicates he talks without ideological baggage. “Trump coming to Houston is a big deal,” he told Desi Talk. “It signifies strengthening of ties, it signifies that the two countries need each other more than ever for so many reasons. And it also signifies the rising influence of the Indian-American community.”
“The special gesture of President @realDonaldTrump to join us in Houston highlights the strength of the relationship and recognition of the contribution of the Indian community to American society and economy. #HowdyModi.” tweeted Prime Minister Modi. He also called it a sign of the “special friendship between India and USA!” adding, “Looking forward to joining the Indian origin community in welcoming him at the programme.”
While several television channels will be there, the event will also be live streamed on the dedicated website – howdymodi.org, Bhutada said.
Some Indian-Americans liken the rise of the Indian-American community in politics and elsewhere as akin to that of the Jewish community. “It hasn’t gone unnoticed by all politicians that the community has money and votes,” said Rangaswami who will be attending the Sept. 22 event luncheon reception for Modi. “It’s not just Democrats but also Republicans who are looking at it. The Jewish community has long been recognized as the go-to community. Now we are being noticed as a go-to!”
Prime Minister Modi will be in the U.S. for the United Nations General Assembly meetings which began Sept. 17, in New York. The Indian Prime Minister will be giving his speech to the UNGA Sept. 27.
The “Community Summit” as it is being described by organizers will have attendees from 48 of the 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska, Bhutada confirmed. “This unique event brings together the President of the world’s most influential democracy, the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, and a bipartisan delegation of Governors, Members of Congress, Mayors, and other public officials,” the press release from organizers noted.
The live audience will be the largest gathering for an invited foreign leader visiting the United States other than the Pope, organizers say on the website.
More than 1,000 volunteers and 650 Texas-based Welcome Partner organizations have been involved in bringing the “Howdy Modi” summit together, organizers say. A 90-minute multimedia cultural program planned for the event is entitled, “Woven: The Indian-American Story,” in which 27 groups are participating.