« Back to articlePrint this article

'Modi is a visionary'

September 23, 2019 10:33 IST

'We are on the world map. Every country is watching this event.'
P Rajendran/ speaks to members of the audience at Sunday's Howdy Modi event in Houston.

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with United States President Donald John Trump at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, September 22, 2019. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with United States President Donald John Trump at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, September 22, 2019. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Number plates with Indian names, such as 'Swati', or one simply saying 'Gujju'. Two wheelchairs occupied by an older couple. Sikhs in turbans, white-capped Bohras in sayas, monks in saffron, and volunteers wearing bindis.

And an unrelenting air of expectation.

All these were cues to something big in the works -- in this case Indian Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's arrival to meet his Indian fans at the NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday, September 22, 2019.

That was when Modi and United States President Donald J Trump expressed strong affection for each other, praising each other, with Modi describing not just how good a friend Trump was -- how perspicacious, far-thinking and capable.

"We have met a few times," said Modi, "and every time he has been the same: Warm, friendly, accessible, energetic and full of wit."

As he put it to Trump at the end of a particularly effusive eulogy, "You have introduced me to your family in 2017; today, I have the honour to introduce you to my family."


Not to be outdone, Trump described Modi as "one of America's greatest, most devoted, and most loyal friends." He told the gathered Indian Americans about their country of origin, "I can tell you that you have never had a better friend as president than President Donald Trump."

To general approval, he went on to draw parallels between Modi's policies and his own -- on the economy, jobs, unemployment, salaries, streamlining of red tape, inequality, immigration, cooperation in space and defence, even an NBA basketball game in Mumbai.

But the biggest roar, including a standing ovation, came after he announced, "We are committed to safeguarding our innocent citizens from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism." Modi nodded as he scratched his beard reflectively.

The crowd was not monolithic in their enthusiasm, often expressing different reasons for what they wanted from the event.

Priyanka Jha, a Java developer from Dallas, said she was there particularly for Modi, and she wanted him to do something to address the problems of those on track to get the coveted green card.

"Maybe he has a powerful personality; he can change (how) Trump (sees the issue)."

Her husband Rakesh hoped there would be a solution to the lack of transparency and the recurring costs involved, even if some of the money could be retrieved.

"People want a house, not compensation," he said, adding that Modi could help reduce the uncertainty.

Mohammed Alam, a process engineer in Houston and a member of the Indian Muslims Association of Greater Houston, felt "by inviting us, we're given a seat at the table."

He felt that whatever measures Modi is taking, "make sure they are just."

Pradeep Sethia is a product manager and research analyst who has lived in many parts of India and spent a few years in Manchester, the UK. He had hoped to hear something about better communications with the Indian community outside India.

He is worried about the ill-fated Senate Bill S.386, running the gauntlet of Republican blocks in its effort to remove country caps on immigration that primarily countries like India and China, which have large populations.

He waved to the arena where the leaders were still holding forth.

"Not sure this has any influence," he said, but said that if Trump could be made to change his mind, the Republican senators, too, would fall in line.

Rishabh Patil, Hrrit Hinge and Shardul Ahire, all high school students, had different priorities. If Hrrit wanted to see Trump and Modi, Rishabh was particularly taken by by the performers, with Shardul singling out some girls in the dances.

Hrrit wanted to encourage cultural ties between India and the US.

Shardul, a Trump supporter, admitted some discomfiture with how he is seen.

"With white people, I identity as Indian," he said. "In India, I'm seen as American."

Rishabh, who like Shardul, is born in India, said he classifies himself as an an American, but back in Hubli was often told, "You're a foreigner."

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with United States President Donald John Trump at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, September 22, 2019. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

IMAGE: Prime Minister Modi and US President Trump take a victory lap of sorts at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, September 22, 2019. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Vanarsa Satya Sudhakar -- who has come over from India to visit his daughters in Texas -- one in Houston, the other in Dallas -- said the event let "people know about India." They could see that India was not poor and underdeveloped, but had its own culture.

Saritha Singh, a software developer, felt the main issue the Modi trip could help address was immigration.

Her husband Hari expanded on that, saying that while the lack of clarity on H-1Bs was galling, he was more annoyed that managers were more likely to get a green card under the EB-1 'genius' visa than people with PhDs.

He also wished country caps relied as one family as a unit instead a group of discreet individuals.

While he agreed with Saritha with her views on Modi ("he's good"), he had some misgivings about the way demonetisation was implemented in India.

His father Chandrasekhar Reddy wished Modi used his mandate to give job reservations on the basis of economic status than caste. He also objected to food subsidies, describing how that impacted the availability of workers on his farm.

Girish Vasu, an IT designer and developer, had come in with some reservations about Modi. He just wanted "to feel the buzz and charisma." He found that Modi had it -- in spades.

Modi, Vasu said, "is a world leader, a visionary."

That Trump was there to at the event excited him, and the presence of local leaders and personalities from the US Congress did nothing to dampen his spirits.

Vasu felt Indo-US ties were getting better, and economic and commercial security inks were very helpful.

He did not think Trump would change his mind.

"The relationship will help Trump," Vasu said, adding that the president's unpredictability could be a result of political undercurrents we are not privy to.

"A new (Democratic) leader could reset the relationship. Together, India and the US are taking it seriously. He is not going to back out. It's to his advantage to hold to his word."

"We are all pumped up," Vasu's wife Ranjani Girish said and highlighted the promise of India and the US working together on space exploration, sports and other areas.

"The world is becoming smaller," she said. "Despite the protests outside, Americans will see what (the relationship) means. We are on the world map. Every country is watching this event."

One person who didn't go, but followed the matter closely was Dr Swaiman Singh, a cardiologist in New Jersey.

According to him, "Every time Modi comes there's a lot of criticism -- and excitement. With Kashmir and minorities being pushed to the side, there was likely to some criticism."

He said he himself had worked his way from being a gas station worker. The question often was why an Indian postal worker could not become a doctor.

Dr Singh said the meeting opened a dialogue between countries, encouraging many NRIs who wanted to go back to India to help people there.

"The prime minister's visit opens the doors for policy changes for us to go back and help," Dr Singh said.

He dismissed the importance of a personal relationship, even a 'bromance'. "We are not talking about people; it's about countries; a 'bromance' should be no matter. Unity is always good to see."

He didn't know what Modi got from the exchange.

Dr Singh did have some concerns about H1-B visas, speaking of a friend who got a good job and bought a house and still was nearly kicked out of the country. He wanted that addressed.

To him the question was simpler: "On the ground level, are they actually doing something: Trade -- or a new air base for America?"

P RAJENDRAN in Houston