Forging stronger ties and trade relations between the US and India.
by Shobana Muratee
HOUSTON, September 24, 2019 – Like everything in Texas, it was meant to be over the top. The September 22 rally in Houston with tagline “Howdy, Modi!”, welcoming India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and joined by President Donald Trump, had a staggering audience of 50,000 Indian Americans here at the NRG Stadium. The event hosted by the Texas India Forum was the largest Community Summit ever held for a foreign leader in the US. People from 48 states come together to celebrate the spirit of ‘Shared Dreams, Bright Futures” between the world’s two great democracies.
The two leaders were received by a rousing welcome and deafening chants of ‘Modi, Modi’ as they made their grand entrance with hands clasped. Modi introduced Trump as “a very special person,” who “has left a deep and lasting impact everywhere.” “From CEO to Commander-in-Chief, from boardrooms to the Oval Office, from studios to global stage, from politics to the economy and to security.” “We have met a few times,” he said, “and every time he has been the same warm friendly, accessible, energetic and full of wit.” “I admire him for something more. His sense of leadership, a passion for America, a concern for every American, a belief in American future and a strong resolve to Make America Great Again,” Modi added.
Addressing Trump as “a friend of India” Modi recalled, “When I met him for the first time, he said to me, “India has a true friend in White House.” “Your presence here today is great testimony to that,” Modi said to Trump. “Mr. President, this morning in Houston you can hear the heartbeat of this great partnership in this celebration of world’s two largest democracies. You can feel the strength and depth of human bonds between our two great nations.” People are at the heart of all relationships: From Houston to Hyderabad, from Boston to Bengaluru, from Chicago to Shimla, from Los Angeles to Ludhiana, from New Jersey to New Delhi. Hundreds of millions are glued to their TV even though it rather late on a Sunday night in India.” They are watching history in the making. “Mr. President, you had introduced me to your family in 2017 and today I have the honor to introduce you to my family, over a billion Indians and people of Indian heritage around the globe.”
It was reciprocal as Trump heaped praise on Modi calling him “American’s greatest, most devoted and most loyal friend.” He also congratulated Modi on his historic re-election this year when 600 million people went to the polls and voted overwhelmingly. He took the opportunity to wish him a “Happy Birthday,” as well. Trump also thanked the Indian American community who he said are, “thriving, prospering, flourishing and hardworking.”
“Prime Minister Modi and I have come to Houston to celebrate everything that unites America and India — our shared dreams and bright futures,” he said on Sunday. Expressing his gratitude to the four million ‘amazing Indian Americans all across our country, he said, “You enrich our culture. You uphold our values. You uplift our communities. And you are truly proud to be Americans and we are proud to have you as Americans,” and was greeted with a standing ovation by the audience.
“If elected India would have true and great friend in the White House. I can tell you you’ve never had a better friend as president as President as President Donald Trump, that I can tell you. Trump said the relationship United States and India is stronger than ever before and pointed out the ‘common values’ and ‘shared commitment to democracy.’ The two countries are prospering, Trump said as “We are slashing bureaucracy and cutting job killing red tape”. Energy and Security is more important than any issue Trump said. Indian company has pledged to purchase 5 billion tons of LNG per year which would bring billions of dollars to US economy. The US defense sales to India have also reached 18 billion he said, and US is looking to “conclude several new defense deals” and is “working closely with India to enhance space cooperation,”. Trump announced.
“Every day the Indian American community is helping to strengthen our country and build our future. “Indian Americans are pioneering, groundbreaking medicines to save countless lives. They are developing revolutionary technology that is changing the world and they are founding new businesses that provide jobs to thousands to our fellow citizens.” Trump said along with Prime Minister Modi, he was looking forward to working with the Indian-American community to make the two countries even more prosperous than ever before.
On the issue of security, Trump said, “We are committed to protecting innocent civilians from radical Islamic terrorism,” to which he was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation by the crowd. “Both India and the U.S. understand that to keep our communities safe, we must protect our borders. Border security is vital to the US. Border security is vital to India,” said Trump. “We are going to take care of our citizens first, we are going to care of our Indian-Americans before we take care of illegal immigrants who want to pour into our country,” the President said.
Earlier, referring to the recent floods in Houston, Trump assured saying “My administration will not rest until you have fully recovered, restored and rebuilt.”
Houston Mayor, Slyvester Turner had earlier welcomed the leaders and presented Modi with the key to city.
Modi started his address with a greeting, “Howdy my friends,” to the cheering thousands. He spoke in Hindi (which was translated to English on screen). In response to “Howdy Modi”, he said ““Everything is fine,” in the more than a dozen Indian languages which lightened the mood instantly. On a more serious note Modi spoke at length of the challenges that India is facing today. As much as India is welcoming new initiatives and “welfare schemes”, it is also bidding ‘farewell’ to many projects that are an hinderance to the nation’s development. India is focused on creating “a new India” and “We are not competing against anyone else but with ourselves. We are challenging ourselves. We are changing ourselves,” Modi said. “The mindset that nothing will change in India is being challenged today.” The fate of rural sanitation was at a stagnation with 38 percent for the last seven decades. In five years, 110 million toilets have been built achieving 99 percent of rural sanitation coverage. Another critical need that was covered was the supply of cooking gas connections which was raised from 55 percent to 95 percent within 5 years with 150 million new gas connections being added. On the rural front, Modi said, “Rural road connections rose from 55 percent to 97 percent within 5 years with over 200,000 km of roads being built.
One hundred percent of families are now having a bank account. Nearly, 370 million in the last five years.
“Cheap data has redefined India,” Modi said. India’s Central and State governments provide 10,000 services online he mentioned. India now offers 1 GB of data costs only around 25 cents. Giving an example he said, “In one day, Aug. 31, (25 lakhs) five million people (double the population of Houston) filed their tax returns online. Tax refunds are now received within days or within a week directly into their account. “Data is a new oil today. Data is the new gold. The entire industry focus is on data. Do you know which country offers data at the lowest rate in the world? It is India. Today in India, 1 GB of data costs only around 25 to 30 cents. The global average price for 1 GB is 25 to 30 times that price,” Modi said.
On the issue of Art. 370, Modi said the matter was a well deliberated in both Houses of the Parliament of India before the withdrawal of special status extended by Art. 370 to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. and the proceedings were telecast across the world. Although BJP did not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, both the Houses passed the bill to rescind Art. 370 with a 2/3rd majority. On this he requested a standing ovation for from the audience the efforts. Now by law, the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh will have equal rights. Women and children will not be oppressed anymore.
Modi pointed out that India’s actions within its boundaries are causing discomfort to some people who are unable to balance their own. These people have put their hatred of India at the center of their political agenda. They want unrest. They support and nurture terrorism. The whole word knows who they are.” He did without mentioning names. “I want to emphasize that President trump is committed to fighting this battle against terrorism,” Modi said and once again asked the audience to give a standing ovation. And they did.
The “Howdy Modi” summit was truly a community event that was organized with the support of more than 1,000 volunteers and with the partnering of 650 Texas-based Indian American organizations across the US and Canada. The 90 minute cultural extravaganza preceding the Prime Minister’s address, was spectacular showcasing of Indian- American artists from Texas and elsewhere. “Woven: The Indian-American Story” was told through the art and talent of a total 400 artists, performing in 27 groups. Together, they portrayed how the community is woven into the larger tapestry of American life.