The Dowdy Howdy Modi Do in Houston

Spearhead Opinion-25.09.2019

In an article on the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston Mihir Sharma wrote ‘” Nobody could expect sophistication from an event titled “Howdy, Modi!” And the Indian prime minister’s rally in Houston — attended by 50,000 or so screaming Indian Americans, two dozen U.S. congressmen and senators, and President Donald Trump — was every bit as cheesy as its title.” This description aptly sums up the event and neither President Trump’s presence nor the congressmen and senators there could change this view of what became an election type rally with Modi going as far as possible to endorse Trumps candidature for a second term and praising him to the point of embarrassment.

Sharma goes on to say that “David Cameron was willing to warm up Modi’s crowd at Wembley stadium. But there’s a special triumphal edge to Modi’s events in America, which once banned him from entering because of “severe violations of religious freedom” under his provincial administration.” Modi had been banned and denied a visa by the US because of the well-documented and widely condemned killing of Muslim mem women and children in Gujerat when he was the Chief Minister. The Houston rally may have had a triumphal edge for Modi but it was more like eating humble pie for the US. Sharma adds that ‘The only political leader ever to be so sanctioned is now prime minister of India.”

Sharma goes on to write that “Trump’s biggest applause line of the night was a condemnation of “radical Islamic terror” — the phrase he used to complain Obama refused to say. Trump also told the crowd that India and the U.S. both care deeply about “border security,” which I suppose is objectively true, given that the U.S. already has detention camps for thousands of new migrants, and India is building them in preparation for housing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of long-term residents that it might soon declare stateless. Trump also spoke of the 300 million Indians that Modi has lifted out of poverty, a statement that is typically misleading: Most were lifted out of poverty by the administration of Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh. Trump knows all about politicians taking credit for their predecessors’ achievements.  In a later statement Trump has clarified that his reference to terrorism was more in the context of Iran and he has also termed Modi’s utterances on Pakistan at the rally as ‘aggressive’ realizing belatedly perhaps that Modi had used him as a prop for his anti-Pakistan agenda.

Some more astute observations by Mihir Sharma— “it is hard to imagine two leaders less like Gandhi and King…….…one of the dangers of the era of populists is that it can warp bilateral relationships away from strong bipartisan support……Indian Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, but it is clearly the Republicans who intend to pander to their worst instincts– on the very day that Trump held Modi’s hand and took a victory lap around a Houston stadium, Bernie Sanders wrote in the Houston Chronicle that we might “hear much about the friendship between the American and Indian peoples” but an “unacceptable” silence about the human rights crisis in Kashmir– a Democrat-Republican divide on India policy isn’t in New Delhi’s interest. Nor are events that make the Indo-U.S. partnership look less like it is based on shared principles and more on the egos of preening populists.”  Spot on Mr. Sharma.

Going further Sharma states–:” The most Modi-friendly politician in the U.S. is a Democrat, Tulsi Gabbard, but she couldn’t turn up after a recent investigative article revealed her past dependence on Hindu nationalist funding (in a video message posted on YouTube, Gabbard said she wasn’t able to attend due to previously scheduled presidential campaign events in Iowa). The senior Democrat on stage was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who was careful in his speech to praise India’s pluralism— as well as the secular values of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru — a figure that Modi’s party men hate and despise.”  Hayers’ point on India’s secular values was particularly significant given the lynching of Muslims in India and the gross human rights violations in Kashmir.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)