It was a masterful stroke in strategic thinking – getting a 50,000-strong crowd of roaring and cheering Indian-Americans to stand up and back the Indian Parliaments move to revoke special status for Kashmir, and again getting them to give a standing ovation to US President Donald Trump for his “strong determination” to fight terrorism, in a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan.
With one fell swoop, Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only brought live to the US audience, comprising not just President Trump but also a large gathering of elected US officials, including Governors, Senators and Representatives, from both the Democrats and Republicans, the strong backing that Article 370’s revocation enjoys among mainstream India and he enumerated the developmental reasons for his government’s move, he also effectively targeted Islamabad over terrorism and its obsessive focus on Kashmir.
Modi, a master orator, also spoke of “Abki bar Trump Sarkar” – pausing strategically after saying that to drive home its meaning, thereby giving Indian-Americans, not just at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event but across the US, the message to back President Trump for re-election. Indian-Americans number nearly four million, and President Trump is keen to get their votes.
In his first speech at the event on Sunday in English while welcoming President Trump on the stage, Modi highlighted the close friendship between the two leaders and the countries. He was effusive in his praise for “my friend, a friend of India, a great American President Mr Donald Trump” and of how his presence at ‘Howdy Modi’ was “extraordinary and unprecedented”.
Trump replied in kind, describing Modi as “America’s greatest, most devoted, and loyal friend”, and backed his administration, saying the Prime Minister “is doing a truly excellent job in India and for all of the Indian people”.
Trump, who is keen to “Make America Great Again” and is pushing for job creation and business, also mentioned the MoU between India’s Petronet LNG and US liquefied natural gas (LNG) developer Tellurian Inc inked a day ago – one of the largest foreign investments in the US for shipping shale gas abroad. Petronet is to spend $2.5 billion for an 18 per cent equity stake in the $28 billion Driftwood LNG terminal, and negotiate the purchase of 5 million tonnes of gas per annum.
Taking the stage after Trump, this time to speak in Hindi for which the US dignitaries had their earphones on for the simultaneous translation, Modi was careful to enunciate clearly the many developmental moves of his government, and gave the million/billion equivalent of the Indian monetary figures.
He elaborated on “fast-paced vikas” or development, and how his government had bid “farewell” to many factors detrimental to growth and development, like corruption, fake companies etc,
He said his government was building a transparent ecosystem so that the benefits of development reaches every Indian. “And if any Indian is kept away from development it is not agreeable,” he said, before going to his government’s move on Kashmir.
“For 70 years a big challenge that India faced has been given farewell to,” and then asked the audience, “you know what I am referring to” – to loud cheers.
“Article 370 was another big challenge that was given farewell to. It kept people away from the benefits of development, and from equality, and it was being used by separatists and terrorists. The Constitution that is for the rest of India is now also for Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. All the discrimination that women, children and Dalits were facing, has been ended,” he said to loud cheering, and “Modi, Modi” chants going up.
Modi said the legislation was passed with a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, including the Upper House where his government did not have majority, and the proceedings were also telecast.
He then asked the audience to give a standing ovation to the Indian Parliament for its move, and the 50,000 crowd stood up as one, applauding, as Trump and the American Congressmen watched.
This move clearly brought home to the US, with the event being telecast live, the message of the wide approval that abrogation of Article 370 enjoys among Indians.
A day ago, Modi had met a cross section of people, including Kashmiri Pandits, who were emotional in their support for revoking special status for Kashmir. He had also met Dawoodi Bohra Muslims and Sikhs. This helped highlight to the US of the support the Prime Minister enjoys among people of different faith. It also came as separatist Sikhs and Pakistanis were holding a big demonstration in Houston against Modi.
Modi then attacked Pakistan, without naming it, against Islamabad’s persistent attacks over Kashmir and its move to internationalise what India says is an entirely internal issue.
“What India has done (revocation of Article 370), there are some people who have trouble over it; they are themselves unable to even take care of their own country.
“They have made hatred towards India the centre piece of their governance. They want ashanti (disturbance). ‘Woh atank ko paltey hain, postey hain’ (they are the breeding ground of terror), the whole world knows them, from 9/11 in the US or the Mumbai 2008 attacks.”
Modi then called for a definitive fight against terrorism.
“The time has come for a definitive fight against terrorism. I want to state with emphasis that President Trump is with us strongly in this fight against terrorism, and he has shown his determination to fight against terrorism,” he said and asked the audience to stand up and give a standing ovation to President Trump for his stand against terror. The entire audience stood up and cheered.
There could be no stronger message against Pakistan, its harbouring of terror, and its obsessive focus on Kashmir, to the watching US audience, and also of the Modi government’s resolve to develop Kashmir like the rest of India.
At the end of the event, the two leaders clasped hands, and walked around the stadium in a kind of victory lap, waving to the cheering crowd, their hands clasped throughout. The messaging was clear again, of the strong friendship between the US and India, and between the two leaders, with both focused on making their countries great.