South Asian Insider
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Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi Prime Minister of India
(SAI Bureau) New York: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to the United States this weekend for his first U.S. visit since winning reelection in a landslide victory last May. His itinerary include a high-profile address to the United Nations General Assembly and meetings with top business leaders in New York.
But the centerpiece of his trip will not be in New York but rather in Texas: a massive rally in Houston where Modi is slated to speak to more than 50,000 attendees who registered for the now sold-out event. Although the majority of the audience will be comprised of members of the Indian diaspora, dozens of U.S. elected officials, including local and state officials, Members of Congress and several U.S. governors will also be present. Days ago, the White House announced that President Trump will join Modi on stage in Houston “to underscore the important partnerships between the United States and India.”
On the surface, Houston appears to be an unconventional choice to hold the event. Washington, New York City and San Francisco have historically hosted Indian leaders in the past, given their importance as the political, financial and tech centers of the country, respectively.
While the planning for proposed the Houston event is yet to kick off, community leaders are looking at multipurpose NRG Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 70,000 people. Houston has one of the largest concentrations of the Indian American community in the US. The Texas Governor and Mayor of Houston had visited India last year.
Around 40,000 people have registered themselves for Indian-American community summit "Howdy, Modi!", which will be addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 22 during his visit to the US for the UN General Assembly session, organisers of the event said.
"Howdy", short for 'How do you do?', is a friendly greeting commonly used in the southwestern United States.
Attendance to the summit is free, but passes have to be obtained which is now open for public, said the host Texas India Forum, a Houston-based non-profit body, which expects around 50,000 people to attend the prime minister's address to the Indian diaspora at the sprawling NRG football stadium in the US' fourth most populous city.
Houston, which has one of the largest concentration of over 5,00,000 Indian-American community in the US, is the energy capital of the world. Energy security is a priority area for the prime minister.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, "I look forward to welcoming PM Modi to Houston, home to one of the biggest and most vibrant Indian communities in the US."
"This historic visit will strengthen the already robust bonds between Houston and India on trade, culture and tourism -- all of which benefit every Houstonian."
According to the convener of the organizing committee Jugal Malani, before the prime minister's address, the event, with the tagline 'Shared Dreams, Bright Futures', will include a cultural programme that puts a spotlight on Indian-American contributions to the United States.
"We want the entire city of Houston to come to enjoy the festivities and learn about Indian-Texan relations," he said.
This will be Modi's third major address to the Indian-American community after he became the prime minister in 2014 and the first after his re-election in May.
The previous two were at the Madison Square Garden in New York in 2014 and the Silicon Valley in 2016. Both the events were attended by more than 20,000 people.
US Senator John Cornyn said, "On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Indian-Americans in Texas, and as co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I welcome Prime Minister Modi to Houston."
"India continues to be a key security and economic partner of the United States, and I look forward to seeing that relationship strengthen with his visit to Texas," he said.
A number group of organisations from a wide spectrum of the Indian diaspora in the United States has mobilized support for the "Howdy, Modi!" event.
The future of Texas is inextricably tied to global trade and strategic relations. As a Texas-wide leadership group focused on civil discourse on the important policy issues facing our state, we recognise that this visit will be a giant step in further strengthening Texas- India relations on numerous fronts."
According to WISERTrade, the US Census Bureau, and the Foreign Trade Division, in 2019 (year to date), India is Houston's fourth largest trading partner just behind Brazil, China and Mexico.
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.
As a result, circumstances appear ripe for greater cooperation. Unsurprisingly, a major component of Modi’s agenda are meetings with several energy companies eyeing deals toward this end.
Beyond just oil and gas, Houston enjoys its own unique relationship with India. According to data compiled by the city, more than 28 Houston-based companies operate 69 subsidiaries in India. Houston is also the fourth-largest gateway for bilateral trade between the two countries. The South Asian giant is Houston’s 10th largest trading partner, with trade valued at over $4.3 billion, a 36% increase from the previous year. The figure is an impressive one, particularly when one considers the ongoing trade irritants testing the broader U.S.-India economic relationship.
Houston also shares close cultural ties with India. More than 150,000 Houston residents identify as Indian American. More than half this figure were born in India. The presence of such a large diaspora community helps explain why Houston was chosen to host the Modi event.
Like other similar diaspora-focused rallies, Modi has headlined in New York City and San Francisco in the past, the event is a celebration not just of the U.S.-India strategic partnership, but of the Indian-American community and its myriad contributions to the United States. Cultivating the Indian diaspora has been a major objective of Modi since he took office more than 5 years ago. The Indian premier is unique amongst his predecessors in not just recognizing the value of the millions of Indians living abroad, but actively courting them as well. Modi views the global Indian community as citizen ambassadors of India, succeeding in their home countries, but also contributing to India’s growth and development agenda.
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