The “Howdy Modi" event in Houston is not a novel one in itself, as such mega events have been organized earlier with success because Prime Minister Narendra Modi relates to the Indian diaspora exceptionally well because of his oratory, the sense of strong leadership that he conveys, and the assurance he radiates that the country is marching ahead.

This time other elements are in play. Modi goes to the US after a massive electoral victory. He is now recognized as a global leader with an unmatched democratic legitimacy. Trump’s decision to join him at Houston is an unprecedented gesture by a US president, even if one discounts the electoral calculation behind it. Even in that case, it amounts to a recognition of the political and economic clout of the Indian American community. The more the American political class recognizes this, the more of a strengthening effect it has on India-US relations. The presence of a large number of US Congressmen at the event points to this.

The Houston event comes after the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s momentous decision to make constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir and impose stringent restrictions on communications and movement in the valley. This has evoked sharp criticism in liberal political and media circles in the US and elsewhere, with a focus on human rights violations of the Kashmiris, even if it is broadly accepted that it is India’s internal matter. Bernie Sanders, some US Congressmen, and the state department have made critical statements on human rights grounds, calling on India to rapidly lift restrictions. Trump’s participation signals the limit of these pressures on India, as the message conveyed is that the broader relationship with India goes beyond Kashmir-related issues. This does not mean that Trump’s gesture entirely neutralizes pressures or that the Kashmir dossier will be treated entirely in our favour henceforth. What it means is that this issue does not have disproportionate importance within the overall framework of India-US ties.

Imran Khan has been relying on the Islamic world and the US to generate international pressure on India. The Islamic world has largely ignored his appeals. He has waved the nuclear flag to galvanize US opinion against India. Trump is meeting Khan in New York, but before that he is signalling to him that the India-US relationship has dimensions that go beyond Kashmir and exaggerated threats of a nuclear war.

Criticism within India juxtaposing Howdy Modi with Howdy Indian economy is otiose. In response to an economic slowdown, the Houston event would be timely in view of our stakes in expanded economic ties with the US. The US has become our largest single country trade partner in goods and services and the biggest source of advanced technologies. This relationship is critical to India’s ambitions of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2025. Modi has the Houston platform to deliver the right message to his American audience, for which a credible ground has been prepared by announcing a drastic reduction in the corporate tax, for instance. Contracts for additional LNG supplies from the US have been signed and a roundtable with the Houston-based energy companies is on Modi’s agenda. All this serves to develop India-US trade ties, defuse Trump’s angst on the trade deficit with India, and incentivises the shift of investment from China to India by US companies.

Hopefully, pending trade issues between India and the US will find a solution under pressure of this visit.

Kanwal Sibal is a former foreign secretary.

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