Community stalwarts blown away by Modi-Trump bonhomie at the Houston rally

Dr. Bharat Barai, a longtime friend and confidante of Prime Minister Modi, and his wife Panna, with External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at one of the private functions held on the sidelines of the Houston rally.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D.-Ill.), and Ohio State legislator Niraj Antani, a Republican, who’s running for the State Senate in 2020, were the only elected Indian American lawmakers to show up for the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ extravaganza in Houston.

Antani told India Abroad that “Prime Minister Modi and President Trump’s joint appearance in front of 50,000 Indian Americans was a historic moment for the U.S.-India relationship. Never before has an event like this taken place with any two world leaders. Inside the stadium, you could tell of the electricity between the two leaders, and also the support of the attendees for them.”

“There is nothing like 50,000 Indian Americans seeing their President and the Prime Minister of their native nation!” he added.

Antani said that it was a no-brainer that “President Trump’s being there brought a lot of excitement. Obviously, it would’ve been exciting had it only been the Prime Minister. However, I thought it was an incredible display by President Trump to show his support of the Indian American community.”

Meanwhile, the consensus among community leaders who attended the event and were also special invitees to the private luncheon with Modi that followed, in addition to the interaction with him the previous day on arrival in Houston, was that the Modi-Trump duo had hit the ball right out of the park.

Dr. Bharat Barai of Chicago, a longtime Modi friend and confidante and the point man for the Madison Square Garden event five years ago, showered kudos on the Texas India Forum for putting on a terrific show. “It was a great experience to be at NRG stadium in Houston last weekend with almost 50,000 people from all over the country, who had all traveled at their own expense.”

“The Houston team did a very commendable job and all of the nearly 1,000 volunteers worked hard, planned well, functioned well and raised the needed money.” 

Barai said that this event was “also very well planned” and that besides “the donors and volunteers, groups of minorities representing Sikhs, Kashmiri Pandits, Indian Muslims met with Prime Minister Modi at the Post Oak Hotel and took photos with him.”

He said, “The fact that Prime Minister Modi personally received President Trump at the ramp and brought him to the stage, and delivered with his welcome address in English—perhaps his longest address in English—clearly showed the bonhomie and synergistic chemistry between the two leaders.”

“And after President Trump gave his speech, which also was received very enthusiastically by the crowd, he didn’t leave but took a seat in the front row on the floor and listened to Prime Minister Modi’s speech in Hindi, with earphones on for the English translation.”

Barai said, “And as usual Prime Minister Modi’s extempore Hindi speech was exceptional in style, delivery and content. He highlighted India’s economic, social achievements for the poor and set goals for next five years, and received the longest and loudest applause when he mentioned about getting rid of article 370 as discriminatory and backward for people.”

He said that “he wanted all the people of India to benefit, including Kashmiris and without naming Pakistan, shamed them for fomenting worldwide terrorism.”

Regarding the absence of U.S. Reps. Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard, he said, “It is not clear if they were pressured by some groups or they did not feel comfortable in this vastly pro Modi crowd.”

“They have been severely criticized on social media and may have face angry onslaught from people who had voted and contributed for them,” he added, and predicted, “Their relationship with Indian American community will be very strained.”

Barai said that “it was mentioned that these four had never spoken out against severe violations of human rights in Pakistan, China, and Syria,” and argued that “they should have made efforts to talk with their Indian American voters and contributors to learn about Kashmir and then make their statements.”

Dr. Sampat Shivangi, national president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) and a stalwart of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), said, “What a union of two world leaders of our time on a world stage and their quest to want to bring together a peaceful and prosperous world at their historic summit in Houston.”

“Modiji and Trump were effusive with their personal chemistry and showed the world that India and the U.S. are closest allies in peace and prosperity. They are also equally committed in eliminating international terrorism and specially ending radical Islamists, the principals of terror and violence,” he said.

Shivangi of Jackson, Mississippi, said, “The emphasis was on reaching to new heights in U.S.-India trade and defense treaties,’ and added, “It was phenomenal experience to be part of the this, possibly greatest show of political power display by two world leaders.”

He said, “Prime Minister Modiji’s dream of five trillion dollar economy for India is very possible if U.S.-India reach trade agreement which we hear, is very much done deal and will be finalized by them this week when they meet on the sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York.”

Shivangi said, “I am confident that this is the only beginning of new era in U.S.-India friendship and the best is yet to come that will make both the nations proud with new pages of history written in the coming days, but this was indeed a remarkable and unprecedented event and I was thrilled to be part of history.”

Piyush Agrawal of Weston, Florida, who has been a founding member of GOPIO (Global Organization of Persons of Indian Origin), AIA (Association of Indians in America), and various other organizations, who also attended the rally and the private events with Modi, said, “Modiji’s magic mesmerized over 50,000 of us NRI’s and PIO’s along with 22 members of the U.S. Congress and the Senate, and of course, the icing on the cake was the presence of President Trump, who saw first-hand the huge popularity of Modi.”

“But Modi being the astute politician, made use of this opportunity to cultivate Trump’s goodwill for the benefit of India and its people, and also the benefit of the Indian American community,” he said.

Agrawal also said that it was “certainly something to behold the way Mr. Trump was patiently listening to Mr. Modi’s speech and Mr. Modi too nodding in approval and agreement when Mr. Trump spoke.”

“And, then it was really something when both leaders took a kind of victory lap holding hands around the stadium to the cheering crowd that was going wild—this was just great,” he added.

Agrawal said that he was confident “that from a political perspective the atmosphere was so positive that most of the people present will support Mr. Trump and re-elect him in 2020.”

Agrawal said, “This was an extremely successful and productive event for both India and the U.S. and importantly, to the Indian American community, all of whom emerged winners and it can only help further forge the U.S.-India strategic partnership.”

Narender Reddy of Atlanta, Ga., a longtime Republican Party stalwart and fund-raiser, echoed similar sentiments.

He recalled that “when I scheduled my trip to attend the event, it was not known that Trump was also planning to attend, but what a pleasant surprise it was when it was announced that he would be sharing the stage with Modi.”

But, Reddy said, “I thought Trump will stop by, deliver a brief speech and would leave. But he delivered not only a nearly half-hour speech but expressed his appreciation for India, Modi and most importantly the Indian Americans.”

“He also didn't mince words in assuring India of U.S. cooperation in fighting terrorism as both countries have paid heavy a price because of terrorist attacks and also recognized that both the U.S. and India need to protect its borders.”

Reddy said he was also elated that Trump “assured the Indian Americans that his administration will take care of Indian American citizens first and not the illegal immigrants, and of course, it made us all feel for proud when he spoke of all of the contributions of Indian Americans and how much it had enriched this country.”

He also bemoaned the fact that among the four Indian American members of the U.S. Congress only Krishnamoorthi was in attendance, and argued that “I believe that Ro Khanna may have decided to skip the event as he feared the ire of Indian Americans because of his recent joining in Pakistani Caucus in Congress.”

“Pramila Jayapal may have skipped the event because she has been critical of Modi's administration because she perceives human right violations in Kashmir and may not have wanted to be seen with Prime Minister Modi, who is projected by liberal press as a Hindu-centric leader.”

Reddy excused Gabbard, saying that “she had already issued a press release stating that due to a prescheduled fund raising event to help her run for the presidency, she would not be able to attend the Howdy-Modi event and had condemned the rumors that she is not happy with the Modi administration.”

“To the contrary, she said in her media advisory, that she will be looking forward to meeting with Modi soon to discuss many issues and policies with him,” he said.

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