Deconstructing “Howdy Modi”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and US President Donald Trump (left) on stage for the Howdy Modi event at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and US President Donald Trump (left) on stage for the Howdy Modi event at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Everyone, barring a few opposition politicians in India and most politicians and journalists in Pakistan, is acknowledging the fact that speech by Prime Minister Modi at Houston, Texas is a game changer for India.

Almost everybody seems to have written about the speech of US President Donald Trump followed by the speech of Prime Minister Modi, but no one seems to have commented on the opening speech given by Prime Minister Modi to introduce President Trump. Let us start with the introduction made by Mr Modi before we start to deconstruct the many points that were made by the two leaders.

The two leaders arrived on the stage with Mr Trump’s arm around the shoulder of Mr Modi. This was the third time these leaders had met in a short period of time in 2019 and their bonhomie was evident from their body language.

Prime Minister Modi was the visitor and not the host at the Houston, Texas event. He was introduced and felicitated by various US leaders before the arrival of President Trump. Once the President arrived, Mr Modi took on the responsibility of introducing President Trump as if Mr Modi was the host at this event. His well-prepared introduction had the President smiling and acknowledging the various points Mr Modi spoke about.

Mr Modi recounted that during his first meeting with President Trump he had been introduced to the Trump family and he said it was now his turn to introduce the President to his family as he reached out to the entire audience in the stadium introducing them as his family to loud cheers of “Modi Modi.” This truly represented what he has always spoken about Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (the World is one family) as the philosophy of India.

His comments of “Make America Great Again” and “Abki Baar Trump Sarkar” (this time Trump government) may have been misunderstood and misinterpreted by the opposition leaders in India who are always looking to score a point without thinking. What they chose not to hear was that Mr Modi was referring to President Trump’s election campaign in 2016. Mr Modi also carefully prefaced these words with “Candidate Trump.” These words struck the right chord with Mr Trump who was standing next to Mr Modi during this introduction.

Prime Minister Modi clearly knew what he was going to be speaking about, and one must appreciate the incredible amount of preparation and thinking that must have gone into preparing his communication. In one speech, he was addressing multiple constituencies:

  • The large number of Indian Americans who had waited to hear him for over five hours along with the 4 million Indian Americans who have been giving him a lot of support since they see in Mr Modi a strong leader who will make them proud of the country of their origin.
  • The President of America who stayed throughout his speech.
  • The multiple representatives and leaders of both Republican and Democratic parties present in the stadium.
  • The millions of Indians who stayed up to listen to his speech even though it was very late at night. Among them were certainly leaders of the opposition parties who must have recognised the gap widening with each passing comment.
  • The audience in Pakistan for whom Mr Modi had some tough comments in the presence of the US President.

After making the introduction of President Trump, Prime Minister Modi was escorted to the edge of the stage by Mr Trump so that Mr Modi could take his chair to hear the President.

Mr Trump was very expansive and generous in his comments and he more than once talked about the true friend India had in the White House. The President recognised the incredible appeal Prime Minister Modi has amongst 4 million Indians in America. At the back of his mind Mr Trump must have remembered that 77% of the Indian Americans voted for Hilary Clinton, the Democratic aspirant in the last US elections. It would certainly help if he could swing the large number of these voters to his side if he was able to convince them that he would support India.

While President Trump spoke about combating Islamic terrorism what was particularly interesting was his mention of the tri-force defence exercises between America and India, a first for these two nations.

Mr Modi was then invited to the stage by President Trump. It was interesting to see that there was no third party between these two world leaders. Mr Modi spoke about the accomplishments of his government at length, understandably to invite investments from American business, but his key communication was about Pakistan and Kashmir.

Mr Modi is an outstanding orator and in his own inimical style he kept asking questions about 9/11 and 26/11 and the people behind these attacks without naming the country or its leader, getting an overwhelming response from the crowd. This certainly made a strong impression on President Trump because he repeated the response of the large crowd in his press conference with Imran Khan. Prime Minister Modi was scathing in his attack on terrorism and his comment that time had now come to take decisive action against the perpetrators reverberated with everyone in the large audience and received a standing ovation.

When it came to the subject of Article 370, Prime Minister Modi very clearly stated that in accordance with democratic principles this was debated at length by both houses of the Indian Parliament in televised debates which was watched around the world, and it was only after these debates that the law was passed with two thirds majority. In multiple languages, in a matter of fact way, Mr Modi communicated to Mr Trump and other leaders that “all is well” in India. This was also a communication to the few leaders who have been “parroting” the Pakistan line of thinking.

At the end his speech, Mr Modi walked across to Mr Trump and holding his hand, took the President for a victory lap around the stadium.

This was Mr Modi’s way of demonstrating the soft power of India with the most powerful man in the universe and getting his implied assent on the various points that PM Modi raised in his speech. I would not be surprised if we see President Trump and the First Lady of US as Chief Guests at India’s Republic Day Parade on 26th January 2020.

Clearly Mr Modi has staked a lot on building very strong bonds with America and Mr Trump. Assuming that Mr Trump will be elected again, he can become for India what Nixon was to China. If that happens, India will be well on its way to becoming a US $10 trillion economy and all of us will have Mr Modi to thank for.

In his second term Prime Minister Modi is a man in a hurry to take all the tough decisions early in his term. Whether we love him or hate him, he has more than 56 months before he seeks election again for a third term. This is enough time to implement and see the results of all the changes he has made since 2014 to Make India Great Again!


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