So, the ‘Howdy, Modi: Shared Dreams, Bright Futures’ event in Houston was an out-and-out success. India was made to shine bright on the global stage by PM Modi, yet again. There were cheers, there were claps, there was chest-thumping, and common enemies terrorism and illegal immigration were rightly targeted in no uncertain terms, and the matter of human rights was conveniently brushed under the carpet. After the two ‘great’ leaders addressed more than 50,000 spectators at the NRG stadium about the great things they had done in their term, and how many more great things were in the pipeline, there were more cheers, there were more claps.
The fact of the matter is that Indian-Americans are concentrated in four American states. A majority, around 7.5 lakh, live in California, while the rest, about 4 lakh each, are spread across Texas, New Jersey, and New York. Notably, according to polls conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in the 2016 presidential election, over 80% Indian-Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate.
With President Trump, a Republican, seeking a second term at the White House in the general elections in 2020, it seems like he is targeting the Indian immigrant population to compensate for the predicted loss of his existing vote base. The Mexico border wall and the ‘Muslim ban‘ being two of his most debated decisions, anti-immigrant policies have been the bedrock of Donald Trump’s political ideology. That fact that Trump agreed to take part in a diaspora event itself reveals that there are already early signs of desperation emerging after trailing Joe Biden in national polls.
“We in India connected well with President Trump and with the words of candidate Trump, ‘Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar’, rang loud and clear,” PM Modi said at the Texas event, rephrasing his popular election slogan “Abki Baar, Modi Sarkar”.
As Indians, we are all in favour of the country’s rise internationally. The presence of the President of the United States, the most powerful person of the free world, alongside PM Modi at an event aimed at the Indian diaspora is certainly a matter of pride. It is a matter of pride, till domestic partisanship is not blended with diplomacy. It is one thing to appreciate the role of the Indian diaspora in the development of the U.S, and hence attending an event. It is a completely different thing to fire from the shoulder of an Indian PM to get some brownie points in the upcoming U.S elections.
It is questionable then, that the Indian PM, despite being aware of the subtleties of American politics and the two-party system, allowed Trump to do so. Not only was he willing to share the stage with President Trump in an event that took on the flavour of a political rally more than a diplomatic event, but also endorsed his campaign slogan. This, one can say, is a bit of a stretch, and is a point at which you start seeing the red flag.
The Congress was understandably miffed at the PM’s departure from the long-held Indian convention of not taking sides in the polls of other countries. “Mr. Prime Minister, you have violated the time-honoured principle of Indian foreign policy of not interfering in the domestic elections of another country. This is a singular disservice to the long-term strategic interests of India,” Congress Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma tweeted.
Mr Prime Minister, you have violated the time honoured principle of Indian foreign policy of not interfering in the domestic elections of another country. This is a singular disservice to the long-term strategic interests of India.
— Anand Sharma (@AnandSharmaINC) September 22, 2019
But, I feel that the Congress, more than anyone, should understand by now that, right or wrong, there is little convention or protocol that PM Modi honours anyway. That being said, the Indian PM is not the first one to dip his hands into American politics. Even in the previous U.S. election, Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin made open vote appeals for Donald Trump.
A statesman like Modi, however, should have been more cautious while owning up to something that might well backfire in the recent future. The Right may have sharply risen to capture the Indian imagination in the last decade, and the Indian media might give his follies a pass, but as things stand in the U.S, both the media and the opposition are yet to get toothless and continue to voice their opinions against the establishment. In case the Democrats come into power in 2020, which seems more and more of a possibility, the Modi-led NDA government might find itself in catch-22.
One must remember that PM Modi spoke in the U.S not in his individual capacity or as the leader of a political party. What he said was the statement of an Indian PM and one that will be documented and become a part of history. Saying then, that his loyalties were well in place, even in eight regional languages, I feel, won’t undo this endorsement.