WASHINGTON, D.C.—While the speeches and mutual admiration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump electrified the more that 50,000 people who packed the Houston football stadium on Sept. 22 for ‘Howdy, Modi!’ rally, the House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) remarks invoking India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru — the BJP’s bete noire—and Mahatma Gandhi did turn a few heads.
Hoyer, whose remarks preceded that of Modi and Trump, spoke about Nehru's vision of India as a secular democracy, even as Modi stood by his side, and articulated Nehru and Gandhi’s vision for India at a time when BJP honchos like Amit Shah have taken hefty swipes against Nehru as responsible for the creation of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) thanks to his untimely ceasefire with Pakistan.
The Majority Leader’s references to “a secular democracy where pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual” also came at a time when concerns have been manifest in the U.S. Congress and the international media and human rights organizations about the “humanitarian crisis” in the aftermath of the Indian government’s repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that provides special status to Kashmir, and the current communication lockdown in the Valley.
Hoyer said, "India, like America, is proud of its ancient traditions to secure a future according to Gandhi's teaching and Nehru's vision of India as a secular democracy where respect for pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual," and also quoted Gandhi’s definition of democracy as "something that gives the weak, the same chance as the strong."
Just hours before Modi took to the stage for ‘Howdy, Modi!’ BJP chief and Union Home Minister Shah, addressing an event in Mumbai, placed the blame squarely on Nehru, India's first Prime Minister and an icon of the opposition Congress party, for "untimely ceasefire" declared in 1947 that led to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under the constitution and eventually terrorism in the Valley.
But in harking back to Nehru, Hoyer spoke of how Nehru on the eve of Independence had spoken of Gandhi’s ambition “to wipe every tear from every eye” and that “as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.”
The influential lawmaker, who is number two in the Democratic hierarchy, next to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said, “On the eve of Independence, Nehru praised Gandhi’s mission to ‘wipe every tear from every eye.’ And they made a pledge for India’s future that so long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.”
“And, in that sense the work of our countries is not over,” he said, and noted that when he “took his oath of office for the final time, Abraham Lincoln called for malice towards none, and charity for all…”
Thus, Hoyer argued, “Together, we the people of India and America, must and will continue to motivate one another and the world to pursue the vision of peace, justice, charity for all, to strive for malice towards none and to wipe every tear from every eye…”
“It is then that we will be both great and just and good,” he said, and declared, “It is this unfulfilled mission that brings us to Texas today.”
Immediately after Hoyer’s speech, social media was abuzz, particularly regarding his references to Gandhi and Nehru and the visions of these two leaders for a secular democracy and how it tied in with Lincoln’s call of “malice toward none and charity for all.”
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh immediately tweeted he was glad that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reminded of the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru by an American Democratic leader at the 'Howdy Modi' event in Houston, and recalled how BJP leaders like L K Advani and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also has recognized Nehru's contribution to the country.
"I recall L.K. Advani praising Nehru in a speech in New York some years ago. Vajpayee's tribute to Nehru is a masterpiece. Jaane Kahan Gaye Woh Din...," Ramesh said in his tweet, and added, “"I'm glad that PM Modi was reminded of the contributions of Nehru by the House Majority Leader in Houston.”
Abhishek Singhvi, another senior Congress leader, also referring toHoyer's remarks said, "It was absolutely unexpected for Modi Ji. While the achievements of Nehru and Gandhi Ji were being mentioned, his (Modi's) expressions were worth seeing.”