Hous­ton, you’ve a prob­lem: Modi fans, crit­ics

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation - Chi­danand.Ra­jghatta @times­group.com

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.

Some pro-Khal­is­tani

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.

AFP

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