Prime Minister Narendra Modi found the perfect setting at Houston’s NRG stadium to end the controversy generated by his home minister Amit Shah who had called for ‘one nation, one language.’ Shah’s statement was seen as an attempt by the BJP, considered a north Indian party, to impose Hindi on all. Modi said ‘all is well’ in multiple Indian languages like Bengali and Telegu.
The crowd went into raptures as Modi talked about diluting Article 370 and in a reference to Pakistan, said it was time to unite against terrorism and those behind it.
Bonhomie was all on display at the stadium as US President Donald Trump and Modi showered praise on each other and the ties between the world’s two largest democracies. In words that regaled the audience as Modi listened in, Trump said, “We are committed to protecting lives of innocent from rabid Islamic terrorism…Border security is important to U.S., border security is vital to India, we understand that."
Trump called Modi “the most loyal friend of U.S." after Modi had literally campaigned for the U.S. President in his speech earlier, chanting, “abki bar, Trump sarkar," a copy of his 2014 successful slogan, ‘abki bar, Modi sarkar’ (this time, Modi government). Trump is seeking re-election in Presidential elections next year. Trump spoke for 34 minutes after which he sat in the audience to listen to Modi’s speech who spoke in Hindi for 47 minutes.
Modi called upon the audience to give a standing ovation to Trump for fighting against terrorism. The event, titled ‘Shared Dreams, Bright Futures,’ was organized by Texas India Forum. Modi welcomed “a very special person whose name is familiar to every person on the planet."
Trump kept his hand on Modi’s shoulder as the two walked together on the stage. The proceedings, long underway before Modi arrived at 9.40 PM India time, had the U.S. anthem ‘Star Spangled Banner’ played followed by India’s.
The event was nothing short of a major Hollywood premiere as Trump arrived 50 minutes later at 1030PM India time and was received by India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar.
Modi wore a grey checked waist jacket with a matching handkerchief tucked inside the left side pocket of a yellow Nehru shirt on top his trademaek white coloured ethnic sherwani.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was the first to speak on the occasion as he welcomed Modi and a Congressional delegation to the stadium. A fusion gospel choir sang Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite song, “Vaishnav Jan Toh," a prayer penned by 15th century poet Narsimha Mehta.
More than two dozen lawmakers and governors of various states like Ted Cruz, Steny Hoyer, Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Brad Sherman and John Cornyn among others stood on the stage to welcome Modi. Cruz, a Senator from Texas, was the first lawmaker to speak, immediately after Turner, and he profusely praised India and the Indian diaspora in the U.S.
The event is being streamed live on Fox News and CNN in the U.S. and all news channels and apps in India.
The crescendo had been in the making all day with reports talking about long queues outside the NRG stadium, leading to traffic snarls. Thousands had taken their seats at the 71,000-capacity NRG stadium several hours before the PM arrived at 9.25 PM India time. The NRG stadium plays host to American football games and hosts a retractable roof. Some stands in the stadium were left vacant due to security reasons.
Before leaving for Houston, Trump had tweeted, “Will be in Houston to be with my friend. Will be a great day in Texas." Modi responded in equal measure, tweeting: “It surely will be a great day! Looking forward to meeting you very soon."
The occasion was marked by several dance, music and yoga performances with large number of non-resident Indians as well as foreigners among those participating. The artists included Indian-origin Americans, school students, doctors, engineers, bankers, analysts and various others from several walks of life.
The programme was a blend of classical Indian and western performances even as the super-sized TV at the centre of the stage displayed the ‘Howdy, Modi’ text with the PM’s picture in the background as he came on stage.