Houston, you’ve a problem: Modi fans, critics
Washington: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here” is the storied expression used by the crew of the Apollo 13 moon flight to report a major technical problem back to their Houston base. Nearing half a century later, Houston itself may have a problem on its hands as it gears up to host an event dubbed “Howdy Modi!” community summit for India’s PM that will have an unprecedented guest appearance by US President Donald Trump.
While the City of #Houston tweeted out a “welcome visitors from across the country in anticipation of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit this weekend at @nrgpark,” the 50,000-capacity stadium that is expected to be packed to the rafters, both anti-Modi protestors and the Modi fan club are duking it out on social media and on the streets ahead of the landmark event.
Billboards welcoming PM Modi are springing up in several parts of the city, America’s fourth largest, even as Modi critics, notably many Pakistanis, Kashmiri Muslims, separatist “Khalistanis,” and civil liberties activists are organising demonstrations and petitions condemning the city’s decision to host and welcome the Indian leader.
truck drivers were seen driving trucks festooned with antiModi posters, while activists disrupted a meeting of the city hall, distributing what was described as a 50+ page packet of articles about Modi, RSS, and its “white supremacist connection and inspiration by the Nazis.”
In turn, pro-India activists and Modi supporters (not always the same) are warning the city of possible violence by protestors. “Radical Pakistan based wahabi Sunni Islamists are planning to hijack and vandalise the event, hope you’ve made adequate security and arrangements,” read one tweet from a rally supporter, and other reminded the city of anti-India demonstrations in Pretoria and in London, where Pakistani lumpens rioted in front of the Indian High Commission, throwing eggs and tomatoes.
Both supporters and critics of Prime Minister Modi are pushing their agenda and narrative around the event that is also expected to be an economic bonanza for the city which boasts of being the energy capital of the world. Some major trade deals are expected to be announced on the margins of the event, with officials from the US state department and the commerce department flying out to Texas to meet their Indian counterparts to flesh out the details.
Although no bilateral meeting is scheduled between Modi and Trump in Houston (they are slated to meet in New York), they could nevertheless go beyond a joint appearance at the rally. Trump himself has not spoken much about the rally ever since the surprise announcement that he will be joining Modi there, despite the growing chorus of criticism of Modi and India for its actions in Jammu & Kashmir.
While a few US lawmakers have criticised India’s move and the curtailment of civil liberties in the Kashmir Valley, many more legislators are expected to attend the rally given the convergence of economic and strategic interests of both countries, notwithstanding reservations in some quarters about the leadership in both countries.
The Pakistani campaign, which is getting more virulent by the day, has had little effect on the Trump administration’s decision to ally with the Modi dispensation.