Tens of thousands of Indian-Americans packed into a Houston stadium Sunday (September 22) for a rally with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, joined by U.S. President Donald Trump, in a rare mass show of support for a foreign leader on U.S. soil.
The event gives 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.
Modi called Trump, “A great American president.”
Trump lent support to Modi, saying, “Both India and the United States also understand that to keep our communities safe, we must protect our borders.”
Houston is a rare Democratic stronghold in Republican-dominated Texas and serves as the economic anchor of a state that will be critical to Trump’s 2020 re-election bid. Polls show tepid support by Indian-American voters, some 75% of whom voted for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2016.
It will not be the first time Modi, who heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has addressed a large crowd in the United States, which is home to about 4 million Indian-Americans including about 300,000 in Houston and nearby Dallas, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data.
Some 19,000 people turned out for a similar event in New York in 2014, and Indian-American volunteers living in U.S. suburbs helped run a telephone blitz of voters in India in the run-up to his May re-election campaign.
Modi’s visit to Houston comes ahead of this week’s U.N. General Assembly in New York and amid a particularly tense time on the subcontinent.
The Indian leader further strained long-simmering relations with Pakistan last month by revoking the partial autonomy enjoyed by Muslim-majority Kashmir, which both nuclear-armed countries claim. Modi’s move has been met by international criticism.
Pakistan has condemned the crackdown and its Prime Minister Imran Khan warned it would drive more of the world’s Muslims into extremism.
The U.S.-India relationship on trade and tariffs is rocky, though Trump and Modi appear to have strong personal ties.