In a significant boost to India-US ties and nod to their growing personal equation, President Donald Trump will be attending Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diaspora outreach event in Houston next Sunday, called “Howdy, Modi!”, the White House announced Sunday.
Trump will not only attend but also address the gathering, people familiar with the hosting of the event said. The two leaders are not expected to hold discussions, either one-on-one or with their delegations, but are likely to meet in New York City on the sidelines of the UN general assembly debates.
This personal outreach by the American president comes at a critical stage in ties between the two countries after Pakistan sought to leverage Trump’s request for its help in Afghanistan peace talks, to seek his mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Trump had agreed, and repeated his offer three times, before backing off in the face of a determined and unambiguous push back from India.
Trump will leave Houston the same day for another event with a visiting world leader, the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison but in Wapakoneta, Ohio, the White House said wrapping up joint appearances to “underscore the important partnerships between the United States and India, and Australia”.
The three countries are members of a growing Indo-Pacific partnership, along with Japan, called the Quad, which has had official-level meetings with growing frequency in the past one year. There was no word if a summit-level meeting of the Quad, or its foreign minister, was on the anvil.
Announcing President Trump’s participation in the Houston event, the White House said, it will be a “great opportunity to emphasize the strong ties” between the peoples of the two countries and to “reaffirm the strategic partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies, and to discuss ways to deepen their energy and trade relationship”.
This is probably the first time as president that Trump will address a diaspora outreach event alongside a visiting foreign leader; he has attended factory openings and ribbon-cutting ceremonies with them, such as his tour of an Australian-owned manufacturing with Morrison in Ohio.
But Trump’s address to the Houston gathering will not be his first to Indian Americans, who will be packing the “Howdy, Modi!” venue, coming in from all around the country. His first was in October 2016, when he spoke to them in Edison, New Jersey as the Republican nominee for the White House.
Welcoming the White House announcement, the Texas India Forum, which is organizing the Houston event, said in a statement they are also expecting several governors, lawmakers, mayors and other leaders and officials to attend.
Houston will be Prime Minister Modi’s third diaspora outreach in the United States, which he has uniquely elevated and transformed from small community gatherings favored by previously visiting prime ministers cutting across party lines, to gigantic events filling massive sporting and concert venues, starting with the iconic Madison Square Garden in September 2014, on his first visit after assuming office.
Next year, it was the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
With a capacity to seat more than 70,000 people, the NRG Stadium, venue for the upcoming event, is the largest yet. The organizers have said they are expecting more than 50,000 people.
That should impress President Trump, who never fails to mention the crowd-size of his political rallies, often comparing them to those recorded by one of his favorite musicians Elton John, as the New York Times reported Sunday, citing among things, this tweet from him last month: “Great news! Tonight, we broke the all-time attendance record previously held by Elton John at #SNHUArena in Manchester, New Hampshire!”
The White House is eyeballing numbers in anticipation of the outreach already. “The event,” it said in its statement on the president’s attendance, “… is expected to draw tens of thousands of people.” The president might follow up with his own take after the event possibly.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will be watching closely. Following in Modi’s footsteps, he became in July the first Pakistani leader to address a similar outreach for Pakistanis, at a sporting venue in Washington DC, the night before his meeting with President Trump at the White House.
Khan packed the 20,000-seat venue to his credit, but the absence of US lawmakers and officials stood out in stark contrast to Modi’s that have reflected bipartisan footfall support from US political leaders such as governors, lawmakers, mayors — nearly 40 US senators and House Representatives had attended the MSG event.__Hindustan Times