— US president joins 50,000 Narendra Modi supporters in Texas as thousands hold counter-protest outside venue
HOUSTON: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday addressed some 50,000 Indian-Americans and Non-Resident Indians at a gathering ‘Howdy, Modi!’ in Houston, Texas, along with the US President Donald Trump amid protests outside the venue.
US President Donald Trump joined Modi as nearly 50,000 people gathered at Houston city’s NRG Stadium on Sunday for the rally hosted by Hindu nationalist Modi’s supporters in the US.
Meanwhile, thousands of people protested Modi’s visit outside the venue over the alleged human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir and other places targeting India’s minorities, mainly the Muslims, who make up about 170 million of India’s 1.3 billion population.
“From CEO to commander-in-chief, from boardrooms to the Oval Office, from studios to the global stage…he has left a lasting impact everywhere,” Modi said about Trump in his speech, with the US president standing by his side on the stage.
“I admire him for something more: his sense of leadership and his passion for America, his concern for every American and strong resolve to make America great again,” said the Indian leader.
Amid chants of “USA, USA” by the crowd, Trump in his address said Modi is “doing a truly exceptional job for India”.
“We are proud to have you as Americans. We thank you, we love you, and my administration is fighting for you everyday,” the US leader said.
“We are committed to protect innocent civilians from radical Islamic terrorism,” said Trump, prompting a loud cheer from the audience, including Modi, who stood up from their seats.
When Trump and Modi meet at the United Nations later this week, they are also expected to discuss the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Houston is a rare Democratic stronghold in Republican-dominated Texas and serves as the economic anchor of a state that will be critical to Trump’s 2020 reelection bid.
Polls show tepid support by Indian American voters, some 75 percent of whom voted for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2016.
US Senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders said on Sunday that the Modi-Trump rally is happening in Houston at a time when Kashmir remains under lockdown.
“When President (Donald) Trump meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston, we will hear much about the friendship between the American and Indian peoples,” the 77-year-old leader said in an opinion piece in Houston Chronicle.
“However, there will be a deafening silence when it comes to a human rights crisis unfolding right before our eyes – and that is unacceptable,” he added.
Last month, the Indian government repealed Article 370 of its constitution, stripping occupied Kashmir of its special status, and imposed a strict lockdown and communications blackout in the region that has snapped off ordinary people’s internet and mobile telephone service across much of occupied Kashmir.
According to Al Jazeera, there were tens of thousands of protesters in Houston.
“To give you sense of how tense things got here … our photographer got his media credentials yanked, his camera was pulled away. This is something the organisers of the event really don’t want to have broadcast around the world,” she said.
“What they want is the appearance of Donald Trump on stage alongside Modi. They want this diplomatic win.”
A Kashmiri-American group, which protested outside the NRG Stadium against Modi, said that India violated basic human rights and cut off contact with relatives.
John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said it was critical to raise concerns to Modi while he is abroad as, unlike previous Indian prime ministers, he has little back-and-forth interaction with the media.
“He is really in a kind of bubble in Delhi,” Sifton said. “This is a moment for Modi to burst outside of his bubble and hear some criticism of what’s happening in Kashmir.”