Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
We know that US President Donald Trump just can't pass up a big crowd, especially not less than 6 months before the 2020 Republican primaries, in which he’ll be up against fellow Republicans looking to unseat him.
But his love of crowds is not the only reason Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ mega event is a sweet deal for him. And it’s a very sweet deal for PM Modi too. Here’s how they benefit:
The Pull Factors for PM Modi
1. Diaspora Engagement
PM Modi gets to show off his star power here, and he gets to do it in front of an adoring crowd over twice the size of the one he had at his blockbuster rally at Madison Square Garden in 2014 – when he visited the US for the first time after his visa to travel there was blocked over his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The diaspora community – whether Indian-Americans or non-resident Indians – is a key plank of the Modi government's foreign policy, according to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, the fruits of which will be on display in Houston.
In a press conference, he had said that this event will be seen as the Indian-American community's achievement.
But why is the diaspora important? Because they can be harnessed to help push India’s interests in other countries.
Indian-Americans are also the wealthiest ethnic group in the US, with a median income of almost twice the national average in 2015, according to Pew Research, so the influence factor is compounded.
China is one country that has perfected this strategy of utilising the diaspora's influence through the long arm of its state machinery, most notably in Australia.
2. Diplomatic Reach
With Trump and other US lawmakers in attendance, Modi's profile – and by extension India's – has never been bigger. To command such crowds and attention in the world's most powerful nation – that too in the conservative South – just before heading to the UNGA in the middle of a diplomatic row with Pakistan? That sends a strong message.
What’s In It For Trump
1. Indian-Americans as a Potential Voting Bloc
With 250,000 diaspora Indians in Texas, Trump is hoping to recapture Indian-Americans as a demographic from the Democrats in what promises to be a tight Senate race in 2020. With Modi's help, it's doable.
Indian-Americans have tended to vote Democrat since the 1970s, but on the other hand, Texas has traditionally been a ‘red’ state, ie one which votes for the Republican party.
Now, with Democrats seeing a chance to ride anti-Trump sentiment and turn Texas ‘blue’, Trump will be hoping to catch hold of PM Modi's coattails and get the Indian-American vote.
How well this works will depend on how much noise the anti-Modi protestors can drum up.
Already, there are trucks cruising around Houston blaring anti-Modi messages, minority groups registering protests at the Houston City Council, and what promises to be thousands-strong demonstrations outside the NRG stadium on 22 September, when the ‘Howdy Modi’ event will take place.
And these pressure tactics may already have worked.
Hindu US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a favourite of India's right wing and recipient of RSS & BJP donations, has said she will not be attending ‘Howdy Modi’ due to prior scheduling commitments – this from someone who had once played up her Modi connections.
But you can bet that if Gabbard thought attending the event would help her in her campaign to be Democratic presidential nominee – she would have been there.
If the protestors have their way, it could be ‘Adios Modi’ instead of ‘Howdy Modi’ in Houston. We’ll have to wait and see.