‘Howdy Modi’—Hugs or Shrugs?

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently visited the United States on a week-long trip. On September the 22nd, he addressed a highly charged Indian community at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event organised in Houston, Texas. The US President Donald Trump also attended the event which was marred by huge protests. Some 40,000 Kashmiris, Pakistanis, Sikhs and other human rights bodies took part in the protest against Indian atrocities in Kashmir. The ‘Howdy Modi’ event created optics radiating to the world a continued US-Indian strategic partnership.

Trump’s decision to attend Modi’s rally marks a clear tilt towards India in view of the recent developments in Kashmir. It was a much needed gesture for Modi to subside the Pakistani diplomatic onslaught on Kashmir issue. The rally was an attempt to counter ‘Modi – the next HITLER‘ perception being built by Pakistan. It may well be argued that an early announcement by Trump to attend Howdy Modi played some role in Pakistan not being able to garner enough support at the UN for submitting a resolution.

…horrified that our religion which teaches vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family) is being hijacked by extremists and nationalists who are lynching Muslims, trampling on democracy and law and order, and arresting if not murdering those who are speaking out

Sunita Viswanath, Co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights

India illegally annexed the held Kashmir on August 5, unleashing a reign of terror against the innocent Kashmiris. People are being picked up from their homes and unduly held up in jails. Thousands have been transported by military planes to a number of jails across India, holding them incommunicado. During his speech, Modi barefaced defended his government’s move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We are especially appalled by the most recent nightmare of the Kashmiri people, and the situation of 1.9 million people in India who are rendered stateless due to the imposition of the travesty called the National Register of Citizens”

Sunita Viswanath, Co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights

Commenting on Houston show Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, told The News that she is “horrified that our religion which teaches vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family) is being hijacked by extremists and nationalists who are lynching Muslims, trampling on democracy and law and order, and arresting if not murdering those who are speaking out”.

“We are especially appalled by the most recent nightmare of the Kashmiri people, and the situation of 1.9 million people in India who are rendered stateless due to the imposition of the travesty called the National Register of Citizens,” she added.

While such rallies as ‘Howdy Modi’ clearly have some signaling effects but it is important to understand who is signaling what and to whom? The Indian community got carried away by little hospitality and Trump’s presence at the NRG need to make out that they have been merely hoaxed for some political gains by a shrewd American politician. Foreign media has mostly given a neutral coverage however Washington Post and New York Times have termed President Trump’s ‘charisma’ in the event as “Trump playing second fiddle to Modi”.

The rally, in essence served as a launchpad for Trump’s election campaign to woo US Indian’s vote in his favor. But unless there’s a large swing away from Democrats among Indian American’s, it is unlikely to move the needle significantly. Survey data suggest that Trump faces an uphill battle to win the support of the Indian American community even though hard-line Hindus are happy with Trump’s anti-Muslim stance.

Despite successful optics, a few important questions are yet to be answered. Did Trump mention Islamic radicalism during his address just to soothe Indian ears? If Trump’s gains in garnering political support from Indian Americans were modest, so were Modi’s signaling attempts with Trump. Interestingly, day after the Houston rally, Trump met Prime Minister Imran Khan — and appeared to contradict what he had said during his address to the Indian American community in Houston. Later, Khan befittingly lambasted at the western perception of Islamic radicalism during his speech in UN General Assembly forum. Khan’s rebuttal was lauded to the highest degree. 

Taking in a broader view, the US is eager to pull its forces out of Afghanistan on a winning note. Some diplomatic sources believe that the US desires Indian boots on ground in Afghanistan in exchange for support on Kashmir issue. While this may sound highly disturbing for Pakistan but it will definitely prove suicidal for India. The US, on the other hand may push Pakistan to use its influence and get it a better deal probably for another futile offer to mediate on Kashmir or easing out pressures viz-a-viz economy especially FATF. The deal US wants, may not be in Pakistan’s capacity to offer. The trap is set for the two South Asian rivals in any eventuality.

If India gives in to the supposed demand by US to deploy it’s military in Afghanistan, it shall be on the account of dilution of her forces elsewhere other than huge financial burden on an already slowing down economy. This may also lead to an aggressive posture by Chinese and Russians on India’s northern border with China. Pakistan, on its part, has already trumpeted loud and clear that irrespective of how many nations stand with her; it is ready to fight it out alone. This stance in essence provides a leverage to Pakistan to accept or reject a damaging proposition.

As fog clears after UNGA sessions and Howdy Modi hugs or shrugs, Kashmir situation is likely to worsen. This implies a sudden surge in actions and reactions from both sides. The narrative being propagated of ‘Howdy Modi’s’ huge success is flawed as much more is yet to come. It may impel the Indians to forget the hopes they have attached to this event.     

Irrespective of their affiliations and business interests, the world community needs to feel the sufferings of the people of Kashmir. The world is about to enter Post-Postmodernism era which promotes faith, trust, dialogue and “non-victimary” dialogue. And yet the people in Kashmir have been locked down for more than 50 days and the world stands silent? They are running out of food and medical supplies—their businesses and social life destroyed. This cannot go on for long and the world needs to take notice of Indian barbarity in Jammu and Kashmir.

About the Author: Mr. Masroor Ahmed is an International Relations’ Scholar and is currently working as Deputy Director in Prime Minister’s Office, Pakistan. His Area of specialization is Regional Conflicts and Security.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Reader’s Review.

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