HOUSTON: With US President Donald Trump seated in front of him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a full-frontal attack on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in India and across the world, telling a rapturous Indian-American crowd at theHowdy Modirally on Sunday that the time has come for a decisive battle against terrorism.
Drawing from Trump’s blunt remarks earlier about the need to protect innocent civilians from “radical Islamic terrorism” that drew a standing ovation from Modi, the Indian delegation, and the Prime Minister invited the gathering to in turn give an ovation to Trump for his fight against terrorism.
Although Modi did not mention Pakistan by name, the reference and the context were obvious.
“People who can barely manage their country object to what has happened in India,” Modi gibed at Pakistan’s chronic instability and Islamabad’s protests about India’s move to better integrate Jammu & Kashmir into the Indian union.
“Whether it is terrorist attacks on 9 / 11 (in New York) or 26 / 11 (in Mumbai), where were the planners of the attacks? ”Modi asked, in an oblique reference to Pakistan being home to Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as Trump and the entire US congressional delegation seated in the front row listened raptly.
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At the conclusion of the event the two men walked hand in hand greeting the rapturous crowd in what could well have been a joint US-India political and electoral rally.
Earlier, both men affirmed their deepening engagement with a public display of affection and mutual show of political support pledging to take the relations to greater heights.
In an unprecedented, landmark event at Houston’s NRG stadium packed with an adoring Indian-American crowd, both men lavished praise on each other and talked their respective countries up, while pledging to put both nations on the path of greater prosperity and security. Short of a formal signed alliance, they pledged a partnership for the ages.
President Trump got a standing ovation from the crowd and the entire Indian delegation, including Prime Minister Modi and foreign minister S Jaishankar when he spoke of the need to protect innocent civilians from radical Islamic terrorism. “Border security is vital to the United States and border security is vital to India. We understand that, ”Trump told the crowd in one of standout moments of the event.
The statement was significant in the context of New Delhi’s effort to better integrate J&K into the Indian union, a move that has attracted adverse reaction from Pakistan and some of the liberal commentariat, leading to heaving protests outside the stadium. Although Trump did not utter the K-word or make his pro-forma offer to mediate on the matter, he made it obvious that the US stood by India.
Speaking after introducing Trump and after the US president’s remarks, Modi too made an oblique reference to the situation following the J&K imbroglio, telling the audience in different India languages that “Everything is fine” in India.
Trump too doubled down on his immigration policies, insisting “we will take care of Indian-Americans first before we take care of illegal immigrants”, an implicit acknowledgement that most Indians immigrate legally.
Pledging to strengthen what he described as the United States’ “cherished bond” with India, Trump lavished praise on the high-achievement Indian-American community, promising “ incredible advancement for our people… new cures and cutting edge technology that would lift millions and millions out of poverty ”.
“The United States and India will make our nations stronger, our people wealthier, our dreams brighter, more than ever before,” the US president promised.
Earlier, Modi welcomed Trump at the gala, both men clasping each other by the shoulders and waist like man-friends as they walked into the venue after greeting children dressed in Indian costumes. The Prime Minister virtually endorsed Trump for a second term, talking up his achievements and praising “his sense of leadership, his passion for America, his concern for every American, his belief in the American future, and a strong resolve to make America great again ”.
Some two dozen US lawmakers from both parties, including the two Texas senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, lined with collegial enthusiasm to endorse strong US-India ties. Modi greeted each individually before yielding the floor to Cruz, Cornyn, and Hoyer.
The bipartisan push for strong US-India relations extending across the Bush, Obama, and Trump presidencies was acknowledged by Hoyer, the second-ranking congressional Democrat and majority leader , who led the Democratic caucus to the Houston gala. The top-ranking Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, could not make it to Houston by she will be meeting foreign minister Jaishankar at an event to commemorate Gandhi Jayanti at the Library of Congress on October 2.
Outside the venue, diverse groups of protesters – Pakistanis, Kashmiris, separatist Khalistanis, Indian civil liberties activists – demonstrated behind barricades erected by Houston police. Chants of “azadi” and “India get out of Kashmir” rent the air with posters comparing Modi to Hitler and claiming “genocide” in Kashmir, where the Indian government claims things have returned to normal except in a few districts in the Valley.
Although dwarfed by the pro-India crowd inside and outside the NRG stadium, the protests were of a significant size and passion in keeping with Houston’s diversity and a strong Muslim presence . “This dude is so bad even the introverts are here,” one sign read.
The Pakistani hand in the protests was no secret. Seen among protesters was Pakistan’s federal minister for Kashmir affairs, Ali Amin Gandapur, a presence that raised questions of diplomatic propriety.
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