"Howdy, Modi!" rally: A Texas-sized welcome for Modi and Trump

President Trump’s very busy weekend continued Sunday in Houston. Your nation’s fourth-largest city hosted a “Howdy, Modi!” rally with a crowd of 50,000 Indian-Americans welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event venue was NRG stadium, home to the NFL Houston Texans team. There was a waiting list of 5,000 for tickets and attendees came from 48 states.

Prime Minister Modi chose a visit to Houston as his first trip to America since his landslide re-election victory in May. Why Houston? Well, it’s the energy capital of the world and this trip is a perfect opportunity for Modi to be welcomed to the city by business leaders, as happened when he arrived Saturday. A large delegation of business leaders was on hand. Modi tweeted his greetings as he arrived.

But the location of Modi’s latest visit is revealing. A joint appearance by Modi and Trump in America’s oil and gas capital reflects a desire by Washington and New Delhi to deepen their bilateral energy cooperation. Last year, Washington and Delhi signed a U.S.-India Strategic Energy Partnership to enhance collaboration in this arena. Both countries believe the full promise of energy trade remains unfulfilled and want to increase cooperation, particularly with respect to shale and liquefied natural (LNG) gas.

India’s massive energy demand coupled with its limited domestic supply makes it a huge potential market for American oil and gas exporters. Rising tensions elsewhere around the world have also created conditions favorable for greater U.S.-India energy trade. American sanctions against Iran have forced New Delhi to stop importing oil from Tehran, traditionally one of its biggest suppliers. China has ceased purchases of American oil in February as a result of an ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing.

There are about 120,000 Indian-Americans in the Houston area. While a majority vote for Democrats, Trump did receive some support in 2016, the same that Romney did in 2012. About 75% voted for Hillary.

This wasn’t organized as a political event, mind you. This was not a Trump rally. It was organized as a community event – the largest gathering of Indian-Americans in the United States. Modi invited Trump, though, and the president accepted the invitation. Instead of just making a guest appearance, as originally thought, he was put on the program to deliver a speech with about 30 minutes allotted to him. The majority of the audience was foreign-born.

Some were not happy that the event took a turn into politics. This was organized as a cultural celebration and a unity summit.There were protesters. Sikhs For Justice protested, for example. It is notable that the Indian Muslims Association of Greater Houston chose to be a Welcome Partner for the community reception instead of protesting. There is tension between Muslims and Modi over his recent crackdown in Kasmir.

Houston Police Department (HPD) tweeted that “rumors” of restrictions to media access of protesters and attendees were wrong.

Modi introduced President Trump as “a very special person”. He said, “His name comes up in almost every conversation around the world on global policy.” He ran through Trump’s resume and said, “He’s left a lasting effect everywhere.” That must cause heartburn for Trump’s critics. The summit was broadcast in India. Modi said, “We are witnessing history in the making.” Trump received a standing ovation both at the beginning and at the end of his speech..

Trump’s speech was mostly standard campaign talking points, which is good since it was an opportunity for voter outreach. He would have been foolish to not take the time to run through his administration’s economic successes. Trump touted the strong economy nationally and in Texas. He spoke about Indian-American owned businesses and investments in Texas. He went on to cover everything from the space program to immigration. He spoke truthfully that legal immigrants don’t support open borders and illegal immigration. When he spoke of combatting radical Islamic terrorism, Trump received another standing ovation. He also mentioned that the U.S. and India are putting together two new defense deals. The Trump administration is working on expanding exports to India and that includes LNG, which is good news for Texas.

I switched over to CNN during Trump’s speech and the network wasn’t carrying the speech live as FNC did. After Trump finished, Boris Sanchez, CNN White House Correspondent did a live shot from the stadium while Modi spoke. The subject CNN chose to talk about during that live shot was about the Ukraine corruption story, not the story of the two leaders of the world’s largest democracies sharing a stage and a bromance. This is my shocked face.

Elected officials from Texas were in the front row. Senators Cornyn and Cruz as well as Texas State Representatives and Senators were present. Both Modi and Trump received a Texas-size welcome. From Houston, Trump travels to Wapakoneta, Ohio to meet Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a tour of a new Australian-owned manufacturing facility.

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