The 'Howdy, Modi' event in America's Texas on Sunday, 22 September, was a packed affair, with the centre of attention, naturally, being the speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump.
But before the two addressed the audience of more than 50,000 people at the NRG stadium in Houston, a 14-odd-minute speech by Democrat Steny Hoyer – the House Majority Leader of US House of Representatives – welcoming PM Modi, ended up turning a few heads.
The reason? His references to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
While Trump and Modi were effusive in their praise for each other in their respective speeches, Hoyer, in his address, brought up Mahatma Gandhi's teachings and even India's first PM Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of a secular India. With PM Modi standing next to him on stage, Hoyer said:
“...Like America, (India) 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 pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual. America and India must strive to make our promises and aspirations a reality for all our citizens.”Democrat Steny Hoyer
Ironically, the US leader's reference to Nehru came on a day when the Modi government's Home Minister, Amit Shah, blamed the late prime minister for the creation of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), saying it would not have come into existence had he not declared an untimely ceasefire with Pakistan. And this is not the first statement by a leader from the Modi government targeting Nehru. Several such statements have been made, including by PM Modi himself.
Moreover, his allusion to "secular democracy where pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual" comes at a time when concerns have been raised over persecution of minorities in India as well as the situation in Kashmir in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
As the second-ranking member of the House Democratic Leadership behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hoyer's presence at the event brought a key voice of the Opposition Democratic Party a year before the presidential elections in the US.
‘An Unfulfilled Mission’
Apart from Gandhi and Nehru, Hoyer also brought up a US President from the 19th century, Abraham Lincoln, in his speech.
Making anecdotal references to the visions these leaders had for their countries, he said the mission still remains “unfulfilled”, and that is what has brought the leaders together for the event at Texas.
“On the eve of Independence, Nehru praised Gandhi’s mission to ‘wipe every tear from their 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. As he took his oath for office for the final time, Abraham Lincoln called for malice towards none, and charity for all...”Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader
“Together, we the people of India and of 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. It is this unfulfilled mission that brings us to Texas today," he continued.
Social Media Abuzz With Hoyer’s Nehru Reference
Soon after Hoyer’s speech, which clearly stood out in contrast to those of others at the ‘Howdy, Modi’ event, social media was abuzz, with many particularly drawing attention to these references to Gandhi and Nehru.
Would Have Been Better If PM Modi Shed Aversion to Nehru: Cong
The Congress on Monday hailed Hoyer's comment saying it would have been better if Modi would have shed his aversion to India's first PM and joined in endorsing what the American leaders said.
Asked about Hoyer's remarks, Congress' senior spokesperson Anand Sharma said it was heartening to see that leaders in America recognise the contribution of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, "like we respect Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela".
"Jawaharlal Nehru (was) the front-ranking leader of the Indian national movement and architect of modern India, we owe a debt of gratitude to him. It would have been better that the prime minister would have shed his aversion to Pandit Nehru and joined in endorsing what the US Senators were saying about Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi," he told reporters.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said he is glad that Modi was reminded of the contributions of Nehru by the American Democratic party leader.
"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 a tweet.
"I'm glad that PM Modi was reminded of the contributions of Nehru by the House Majority Leader in Houston," he said.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi also took a swipe at Modi over Hoyer's remarks, saying, "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," he said.