At one time Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was denied a Visa to the United States. On Sunday, September 21, 2019 he received a grand welcome in Houston, Texas for his seven-day trip to the United States is more than just a victory.
His visit was kickstarted by an Indian community event in Houston, where he was given a warm welcome by over 50,000 people, the largest ever for any foreign political leader. It was a vibrant and colorful event with nearly 200 artists performing for the occasion.
Modi’s first foreign tour came after a land slide victory in the May 2019 elections. His controversial decision to abolish Kashmir’s special status in August 2019 was an opportunity to rally the world to accept India’s policy shifts in repealing Article 370, a clause in the constitution that gave the region of Kashmir in northern India special status and autonomy from Indian government, and improving bilateral relations.
At the Houston conference fusion music piece preformed by Indian classical singers and an American choir group received a lot of appreciation from the crowd. “The goal of it was to really just bring together elements of American music and Indian culture really well and find songs that really embody both of those,” said Akshara Parashar, one of the India singers who grew up in Houston.
David Karl, the Chief Knowledge Officer at Get Global, a firm that helps companies in investing in key foreign markets, said the significance of the presence of an economically successful Indian immigrant population in the U.S and their impact on diplomacy. “The meeting in Houston was a very vivid demonstration of the growing influence of the Indian diaspora in the United States and so many international relations experts tend to overlook the influence of this diaspora,” Karl said.
Before coming to the U.S., Houston resident Kriti Bhayani, who works as a pipeline engineer in the United States Armed Forces, grew up in the state of Gujarat in Western India where Narendra Modi was the former Chief Minister. She admires his pro-development agenda and believes that Modi is the leader India needs for its growth on all fronts.
“The energy in the stadium was electrifying… watching [Modi’s] speech live was amazing,” Bhayani said.
Bhayani, who regularly travels to rural parts of the U.S. to inspect pipelines said that in the last five years, she has sensed that more people are aware of what is happening in India.
“There is a heightened awareness of who we are [and] I don’t think anyone’s perceptions have necessarily changed,” said Saraang Gopinath, an Indian American student at USC. He also said Modi’s Houston visit highlights a greater sense of solidarity both politically and culturally between the American-Indians and Narendra Modi.
The Houston event was also attended by President Donald Trump. Despite the political theater, both leaders seemed to support one another. Modi endorsed Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020.
“Ab Ki Baar trump Sarkaar,” Modi said, which means: that “Trump will form the government in this election.”
This slogan that was the back-bone of Modi’s first election campaign in India. His win in this election established a Bharatiya Janata Party strong-hold that led to their consequent victory.
But fear of Trump’s policies was echoed particularly among immigrant Indian students who recently moved to U.S to pursue a master’s degree and their American dream of settling down in the country. Shraddha Gururaj, a USC graduate student studying electrical engineering, said she feels that the whole meeting was a huge “charade” and an opportunity for both leaders to pat each other’s backs. She also speculates some Indian Americans will be voting for Republicans in the 2020 election.
Beyond the ballot vote, the Indian diaspora is the most prosperous of all minority groups in America, said Karl. He predicts that the Indian votes going to Trump will have little to no impact on the Presidential election but it’s the campaign donations that can make a big difference. “Their vote is useless but their money, if it contributes greater political contributions to the Republicans… that might be the most significant consequence from the Houston meeting” Karl said.
Nishanth Hedge, an Indian student at USC, said that this type of message is not surprising. He said that Modi’s endorsement of Trump makes sense as they are both right leaning political figures and share similar ideologies. Modi’s political messages to ‘make the country great again’ is the reason for his ascent to power. While most Indians, favor his anti-corruption and development friendly agenda, there are a few who strongly oppose the surge of Hindu Nationalism in his tenure. They see his politics as creating a divide between Hindus and Muslims.
Deeksha Chadriah, a graduate student in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, believes that Narendra Modi’s visits to the United States elevate the profile of India’s international presence despite increased tensions with Pakistan after the removal of Kashmir’s special status.
Paras Sharma, currently a second-year graduate student, from the Jammu and Kashmir region welcomes Modi’s repeal of Article 370 but felt the Houston stage wasn’t the platform to address a domestic issue. Nipun Singhal, an engineering graduate student says, “I think it was a strategic move because they were trying to downplay Pakistan.”
Agam Shah, who recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue graduate studies at USC voted for Modi in the May 2019 election. “If India has good presence internationally and people are aware of the skillset we bring to the table, Indians will be recognized,” Shah said.