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Thousands of Indian-Americans in Attendance, Stage Set for PM Modi's Address in Houston

The event gives Modi a chance to energize his relationship with Indian-Americans who are active political supporters.


Updated:September 22, 2019, 5:49 PM IST
Thousands of Indian-Americans in Attendance, Stage Set for PM Modi's Address in Houston
File photo of PM Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump.

Houston: Nearly 50,000 Indian-Americans are expected to pack into Houston's NRG stadium shortly for a rally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, joined by US President Donald Trump.

The event gives Modi a chance to energize his relationship with Indian-Americans who are active political supporters. Trump, meanwhile, will face a largely foreign-born audience that may not prove receptive to his typical strident anti-immigrant messages.

Houston is a rare Democratic stronghold in Republican-dominated Texas and serves as the economic anchor of a state that will be critical to Trump's 2020 reelection bid. Polls show tepid support by Indian-American voters, some 75% of whom voted for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2016.

But organizers of the "Howdy, Modi!" event, due to kick off in the morning with a 90-minute cultural program featuring 400 costumed dancers, say Trump can expect a receptive audience.

"Trump is completely welcomed by the community," said Preeti Dawra, a spokeswoman for the Texas India Forum that organized the event. "His presence is an indication of his support and endorsement of the strengthening of India's relations with America. This event is about strengthening those ties."

It will not be the first time Modi addresses a large crowd in the United States, which is home to about 4 million Indian-Americans including about 300,000 in Houston and nearby Dallas, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of US Census data.

Some 19,000 people turned out for a similar event in New York in 2014, and Indian-American volunteers living in US suburbs helped run a telephone blitz of voters in India in the runup to his May reelection campaign.

"Modi's coming here shows the importance of the Indian-American diaspora for him," Dawra said. "We will show him on Sunday the enthusiasm the diaspora has for his leadership."

Modi's visit to Houston comes ahead of this week's UN General Assembly in New York and amid a particularly tense time on the subcontinent.

The visit comes at a time when India'r relations with neighbouring Pakistan are strained after India revoked Article 370.

The US-India relationship on trade and tariffs is rocky right now, though Trump and Modi appear to have strong personal ties.

But Devesh Kapur, director of Asia Programs at Johns Hopkins University, who has written a book on Indian-Americans, said that while the rally would certainly have symbolic value for both leaders, "it's unlikely by itself to impact thorny trade issues ... but it can't hurt."

Kapur also forecast little improvement regarding Trump's standing with Indian-Americans.

"The Trump administration's hard line policies on immigration ... have hardly endeared (him) to the community," Kapur said. "Appearing with PM Modi might mildly help but certainly not reverse the community's overall pro-Democrat leanings."

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