‘A PR triumph’: How foreign media covered the PM’s ‘Howdy, Modi’ rally

Most reports mentioned the 'tension' over Kashmir, and what Modi's support means for Trump.

WrittenBy:NL Team
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Standing alongside US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a crowd of 50,000 Indian-Americans yesterday in Houston at the Howdy, Modi! rally. TV channels and newspapers in India devoted plenty of primetime and column-space to the event, but what did international publications have to say?

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The New York Timesstory on the front page was headlined “At Rally for India’s Modi, Trump Plays Second Fiddle but a Familiar Tune”, noting Trump was “technically just an invited guest” at the “boisterous cultural rally”.

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Washington Post reported that Trump played the “unusual role of warm up act” but the “signage and stagecraft made clear that Modi was the main attraction”. The report said: “The foreign strategy of soothing tensions with the United States by stroking President Trump’s ego was put into vivid effect here Sunday when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lathered praise on his American counterpart at a massive rally celebrating the Indian diaspora.”

CNN said the rally gave Trump a chance to “appeal to Indian-American voters in Harris County, which has been at the heart of Texas’ gradual shift from reliably Republican to competitive battleground”, and that Modi could help give Trump “a bump in his battle for reelection”.

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Reuters noted that the event comes at a “particularly tense time” in India, referring to Kashmir, and at a time when the US-India relationship on trade and tariffs is “rocky”. “The event has given Modi, a nationalist facing international criticism over a recent crackdown in disputed Kashmir, a chance to energize his relationship with Indian-Americans who are active political supporters.”

BBC reported that the “personal-touch diplomacy with Mr Modi’s trademark bear hugs” was “played to perfection” and that the rally was described as a “win-win for both the leaders”. “For President Trump, it was a chance to court Indian-Americans for the 2020 presidential election race where Texas could emerge as a battleground state. For Mr Modi, a PR triumph and picture with the president of the United States may help him shrug off the criticism over his recent strong-arm policies at home.”

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Houston Chronicle struck a slightly different note, pointing out there were “hoards of Modi detractors” outside the venue, “estimated to be between 12,000 and 15,000”. The report, headlined “Modi, Trump and protesters converge on Houston’s NRG Stadium”, said: “The crowd, clearly, was there to see Modi, not the president: All 50,000 tickets had been reserved before Trump announced he’d attend. Modi T-shirts, signs and banners were plastered everywhere; none seemed to bear Trump’s name. Many times the crowd chanted ‘Modi! Modi! Modi!’ Once it chanted ‘U.S.A.! U.S.A!’ It did not chant ‘Trump!'”

On September 22, the Chronicle also carried a scathing opinion piece by Bernie Sanders titled “As Trump meets with India’s Modi, a reminder to put human rights at center of U.S. foreign policy”. Describing the current situation in Kashmir as a “human rights crisis”, he wrote that Trump’s silence on the issue was “consistent with his broader failure to speak up for human rights across the world”. “I believe the U.S. president must speak clearly in support of international humanitarian law and in support of a UN-backed peaceful resolution between India and Pakistan that respects the will of the Kashmiri people. Unfortunately, Trump has chosen to abandon the United States’ global leadership role. He is remaining silent on the Kashmir crisis while planning to hold a public rally with India’s prime minister.”

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Houston Chronicle‘s September 22 editorial, titled “Howdy, Modi! Now, about Kashmir…”, hit out at the prime minister over Kashmir, stating: “We do caution that Texas’ hospitality should not be confused with an endorsement of India’s recent actions in Kashmir nor of Modi’s troubling brand of Hindu nationalism.” The editorial said: “But neither increasing business ties with India nor their economic benefits should lead us to turn a blind eye to concerns among human rights groups over increasing hate speech, alienation and violence targeting religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians, and Modi’s empowerment of Hindu hard-liners.”

The Guardian reported that the event “had the feel of one of Trump’s campaign rallies, complete with a packed venue and a roaring crowd, and Trump treated it that way at times”. It also agreed that Modi’s support of Trump “could help the president at the polls next year”.

Al Jazeera‘s coverage focused on Kashmir too, saying Modi’s government “launched an unprecedented security clampdown on the region”. The report said: “Outside the stadium, thousands of people protested against Modi over the alleged human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir and other places targeting India’s minorities, including Muslims, who make up about 170 million of India’s 1.3 billion population.”

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In The Chicago Tribune, Ken Herman wrote that, in the context of Trump saying he has a “very good relationship” with Modi, “it must be noted here that Trump also boasts of his very good relationships with such leaders as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Mitch McConnell”. However: “But Modi’s feelings toward Trump were clear in the Indian prime minister’s over-the-top introduction of Trump. Modi thinks as highly of our president as our president thinks of himself, if that’s possible.”

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