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Why Trump came to Houston to Howdy Modi

One ostensible reason is that Trump is making a bid to win an Indian-American constituency that is heavily pro-Modi but largely Democratic in its political leanings.

Sep 24, 2019, 10.44 AM IST
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(This story originally appeared in on Sep 23, 2019)
WASHINGTON: Nearly 25 years ago, an Indian-American attorney in Maryland was sentenced to prison on charges of laundering $46,000 in illegal political contribution from an Indian Embassy official. The offence was considered so serious that the Indian official was quietly recalled by New Delhi ahead of an expulsion prospect.

Laws against foreign financial contributions whether by governments or through individuals remain in the US books, but a remarkable new aspect of global relations is the manner in which world leaders, none more than US President Donald Trump, appear to back the domestic prospects of foreign leaders, and they return the favour.

This was on full display at the Howdy, Modi rally in Houston on Sunday where India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled his own electoral slogan that was reprised by candidate Trump “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar” (This time, a Trump government), and lavished praise on the US President that suggested he was endorsing him for a second term.

In turn, Trump also lathered encomiums on Modi for the massive mandate he got in India’s general election earlier this year, calling him a “great man and a great leader” who was full of “great wisdom.” This after Modi had called him a “great American president” who has gone from “CEO to Commander-in-Chief, from ballrooms to the Oval Office from studios to global stage, (and who) from politics to the economy and to security, has left a deep and lasting impact everywhere.”

Trump of course lapped it all up, beaming at the large, delirious crowd as Modi literally hand-held him and walked him through the aisles like they were some newly-wedded couple. They just wouldn’t let go, after having hugged, embraced, and clasped each other by the shoulder and held each other by the waist. They could as well sealed it off with a kiss. As he took off on Air Force One, Trump distilled the entirety of the new US policy into a crisp four-word tweet: The USA Loves India.

One ostensible reason is that Trump is making a bid to win an Indian-American constituency that is heavily pro-Modi but largely Democratic in its political leanings. In the 2016 election, Trump won the support of only about 14 per cent of Indian American voters, compared to 84 per cent who went for Hillary Clinton, according to an analysis by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

This Democratic leaning has long been a feature of Indian-Americans, but they also lean heavily towards the BJP. The duality between backing a conservative political force in India and liberal force in the US does not faze them. “I don’t see anything inconsistent in that. The BJP has always been about bringing Indian people together and advancing India’s cause,” explains Vivek Kavadi, a Houston oncologist, who feels the BJP is needlessly demonized. A Democrat in the US Kavadi has held fundraisers for Shri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian-American candidate (and former US diplomat) who is widely tipped to win the next Congressional election in 2020 after narrowly losing in 2018.

In fact, the narrowing gap between Democrats and Republicans in Texas, a traditionally red state that was last won by a Democrat in 1976 (Jimmy Carter) is what appears to have drawn Trump to the HowdyModi rally and its 50,000 prospective voters, plus thousands more who watched it online. The President too laid it thick, promising to “care of our Indian American citizens before we take care of illegal immigrants that want to pour into our country.” Point to note: Most Indian-Americans are legal immigrants and resent the quick passage illegal immigrants, including some Indians, get through the asylum process.

It’s not that Indian-Americans are a big voting block. In fact, there are less than two million Indian-American voters. But Trump has long been mindful of the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by nearly three million votes. Besides, he won the electoral college by virtue of winning three swing stages by less than 100,000 votes. So for him, every vote is important, and it helps that the Indian-American constituency is well-educated and wealthy too.

Also Read

Trump at ‘Howdy, Modi’: Indian-American imprint

'Howdy, Modi!' organised, funded by US-based volunteers, not party or government: BJP

Modi and Trump score from Howdy Modi, but what’s in it for India?

'Howdy, Modi!' triumphant moment for Indo-US ties: USISPF

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