Modi will always have Houston & India, a changed relationship with the US
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the political figure in the world politics right now who cannot be ignored. US President Donald Trump has also understood this. The recent Houston event indicates to this. The Howdy Modi show proves to him that if he wants to secure the Indian-American vote bank Modi can deliver that well. SAWM member Jyoti Malhotra writes how exactly this political agenda is shaping up.
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to hand it to PM Narendra Modi. He knows how to turn a crowd. There’s nothing that politicians want more than to please or pump a large gathering. That roar that accompanies an ovation, like the one you heard at the NRG stadium in Houston Sunday night, was worthy of a Roman gladiator arena.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan can say anything he likes about Kashmir/mediation/Kashmir again until he’s blue in the face, but US President Donald Trump knows what he saw in Houston. He saw a foreign leader, that too with limited English-speaking ability, play with approximately 50,000 of his American citizens, like they were puppets on a master string. He saw that the master puppeteer wasn’t him, but Modi.
At the end of the day, after all the hand-in-hand victory lap around the arena was done, one word stands out. By @realDonaldTrump, on a short 10-second video that has been watched 2.7 million times already. “Incredible,” he said.
The India-US relationship turnaround will not depend on Houston – but the event will significantly contribute to it. Trump, that ultimate darling of the capitalist dream, is crass enough to go after what he wants. Sigmund Freud would say he has an “undifferentiated id,” meaning, he will throw a tantrum until he gets what he wants, because he cannot understand why no one else sees that what he wants is a priority.
In this case, Trump wants the vote of the hugely influential Indian American community. He knows now that Modi can help deliver it. As the triumph in Houston fully sinks in and the collective testosterone clears, it is also apparent that India could be the new Israel for the USA.
Certainly, you find the Indian Americans everywhere – from mom-and-pop ‘kirana’ neighbourhood stores to Gujarati businessmen buying real estate in Trump Towers to top-of-the-bloodline Ivy League universities and science establishments. The Indians have been coming for hundred-odd years and now they firmly belong.
These new Americans won’t supplant the rich and influential Jewish community with re-forged umbilical cords to Israel, but they will follow that model.
Actually, it was the Manmohan Singh government, which first realised what American Jews could do for India. As they lobbied for the Indo-US nuclear deal ten years ago, Indian diplomats sought out influential businessmen and women, especially among the Jewish community, to carry that influence inside the Beltway in Washington DC.
What Modi did in Houston was to show Trump that he is not only India’s but also the Indian American community’s sole spokesman – certainly, it is ironic that Jinnah was once described in the same way. Certainly, some of the dangers in the long run, are the same.
The memory of that marvellous evening in Houston is even sweeter because Modi avenged himself on Trump, although it took him two full years to do it. On the margins of the ASEAN summit in Manila in November 2017, Modi felt that Trump “treated him like just another Asian leader”. The bad blood over the Harley Davidson bikes and the trade wars over aluminium, medical devices and chicken legs followed.
But the penny really dropped when foreign institutional investors took out $4.5 billion since June – Modi realised that his dream of becoming a world statesman was in jeopardy.
Moreover, with Chinese President Xi Jinping coming to town soon, there was only one thing left to do – become friends with Trump again. The Chinese, Modi knows as does the rest of the world, only respect power.
So, Modi swallowed his pride to out-Trump Trump. Everything was bigger and better in Houston – the Democrats and Republicans standing in line on stage, the large crowds, the standing ovations. Except for the atrociously off-key singing by the Indian American performers, who must learn to “mile sur mera tumhara” from the mother country, everything was clockwork perfect.
The truth is that nobody has wanted the Indian Americans before as much as Modi. In the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv years, the Indians who left India because they wanted a better life outside, were both envied and despised; envied because they had the courage to leave and despised because they couldn’t wait to aspire to break into the elite at home, and so what if it took a few generations.
Some half-hearted bureaucratic attempts were made through the celebration of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. But Modi has changed all that with Houston.
As for Pakistan and Imran Khan’s determination to get Trump to mediate in Kashmir, it was interesting to see how the US President moderated his own position from a month ago. And how he ticked off a Pakistani reporter who prefaced his request to mediate in Kashmir by saying that the US president would definitely win the Nobel Prize if he did so:
Love him or hate him, fact is that Modi will always have Houston and India, a radically changed relationship with the US.