Ever since Pradhan Mantri (PM) Sri Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took over the reins of the Government of the Republic of India in 2014, it has made interaction with the Indian diaspora around the globe its essential part of PM Modi’s international itineraries.
Modi uses his engagements with the Indian diaspora as an important tool in his foreign policy as well as in creating a partnership in nation building at home. PM Modi had honed his skills in this area while he was the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat. Modi’s interaction with the Indian diaspora, like most other aspects of his style of governance, marks a departure from other post-colonial Indian governments.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, pursued a policy of “active dissociation” from the Indian diaspora, writes Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs in his book Modi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister. Prior governments viewed now roughly 25 million people of Indian diaspora scattered all around the globe with suspicion as if they had betrayed the country. Chaulia quotes Nehru making the following comment in the Lok Sabha in 1957: “If they adopt the nationality of that country, we have no concern with them. Sentimental concern there is, but politically they cease to be Indian national”.
On the contrary, PM Modi sees Indian diaspora very much part of India’s story, not just past story but future story as well. PM Modi’s engagements abroad are not restricted to meeting a few prominent elite Indians in events organized in the sleepy confines of Indian embassies. Modi goes out with all pomp and show and holds presidential campaign style ostentatious rallies in mega cities. Modi’s penchant for leveraging Indian diaspora in transforming India into a cultural, political and economic powerhouse is remarkable. PM Modi has made his effort to harness the energy and assets of the Indian diaspora a part of his governance policy mantra.
PM Modi will be in the US later this month for the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. As he has done it in the past Modi will host a huge diaspora event, this time in the Texan city of Houston on Sunday, September 22. According to media reports, Chicago and Houston were both in the reckoning for hosting Modi. Houston is the most populous city of the southern state of Texas. Besides being the energy capital of the world, it is also houses one of the most politically and culturally active Indian diaspora. Many also call Houston the ‘Nagpur of America’.
Modi’s Houston event is called ‘Howdy, Modi!’. ‘Howdy!’ as contraction of ‘How do you do?’ is common form of greeting the Southwestern part of the United States, including in Texas. Tickets to the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event, 50,000 of them, were sold out in about three weeks’ time. Organizers claim that this will be the largest crowd for any Prime Minister in North America and the largest for a democratically elected leader in America.
The ‘Howdy, Modi!’ organizers have put together a 90-minute cultural extravaganza – “Woven: The Indian-American Story”. The program will celebrate the contributions of Indian-Americans to the cultural, intellectual, and social landscape of the US. It will feature close to 400 artists and community members from Texas and across the US. There are 27 groups performing in a seamless live and multimedia experience that will showcase the diversity of the Indian-American community.
“We really look forward to presenting this unique and interesting cultural show at the event, which will tell the story of our community in a way that’s never really been done before. We want all the attendees and those watching from home to connect with a program that shows the Indian-American community and understand what drives our community to be part of the larger American experience,” said Gitesh Desai, spokesperson for the event.
Preparations are on a war footing and are in the final phase. “The event has successfully moved from inviting PM Modi to come to Houston to planning and registration to now the execution phase. It has been a massive effort, covering myriad areas with attention to detail,” said Jugal Malani, the chairperson of the event.
Several local, national, and international politicians are expected to attend the event along with distinguished members of the Indian diaspora, and community and business leaders. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he is looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Modi to Houston. Houston is “home to one of the biggest and most vibrant Indian communities in the US. I know how much his visit means to not only the Indian diaspora in our city but throughout the region. This historic visit will strengthen the already robust bonds between Houston and India on trade, culture, and tourism – all of which benefit every Houstonian,” added the Mayor.
Though organizers remain tightlipped about the security arrangement, it is expected to be very tight around the event site. Houston has a history of protests and counter protests by the rival Indian and Pakistani groups on various issues. However, these protests do not have a history of turning violent. Some members of the diaspora may have some concerns about security given the recent political developments in the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Recently, a mob of Pakistan-backed protestors had vandalized the Indian High Commission in London and just about a year ago a couple of Jihadi and ultra-leftists activists had breached the security and briefly disrupted the proceedings of the World Hindu Congress in Chicago.