The Howdy, Modi! episode is set to go down in history as a moment when the heads of government of two of world’s largest democracies and economic powers shared the platform during an informal event and re-wrote the rule book of bilateral relations between India and the US.
- Mayank Gupta
That the addresses of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Indian diaspora anywhere in the world attract unprecedented gathering and wide media reporting is now nothing new. When PM Modi visited the UK in 2015 and addressed the British-Indian community at Wembley Stadium with the then Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, the leftwing section of British media criticized the grand welcome accorded to PM Modi but the critic was dwarfed by the loud cheers of the attendees at the stadium. Mr. Cameron has relived the moment in his lately released memoir.
In this context, let’s understand why the President of the world’s most powerful nation, which also happens to be the world’s largest economy, decided to share dais with India, a developing country’s PM and speak at length praising the latter’s reformist stance. Not only did the Howdy, Modi! event create a buzz in the American media, it has substantially reinforced the importance of India-US relations at a time when both the countries are involved in conflicts with other countries- the US has waged a trade war against China and India is locked in a bitter conflict with its ever-notorious neighbour, Pakistan.
Amid all the cheers and chants, one has to look beyond and interpret vital signs. For example, the Howdy, Modi! event was probably the first-time ever when the American President Donald Trump used India-US Flag combination as his presidential lectern, replacing the presidential seal. No detractor of PM Modi, or for that matter President Trump, can undermine the importance of this. The opposition parties of India may find it uneasy to praise how PM Modi scored an exemplary diplomatic point by convincing the US of not only abiding by the old rules of bilateral relations but at the same time look for new avenues.
Similarly, the call for relaxing immigration norms for Indian expats and continuation of trade sops granted to India is a bipartisan one, with both democrats and republicans (two major political parties of the US) finding it rewarding to have a progressive relationship with the behemoth of Asia, India. On the other hand, such nations as Pakistan are being regularly sidelined from the international community and the low-key welcome of the Pakistani PM by the US has become a subject of mockery by even Pakistan’s own citizens.
As far as the economic and financial benefits arising out the Howdy, Modi! event are concerned, both the countries know that they need each other at this crucial juncture when the global economy is experiencing slowdown and avenues of growth are limited. India has such large a consumer base that American a-list companies including Google, Facebook and Apple have dedicated a sizeable amount of their resources outside the US on India. Indian IT and pharma industries have been prominent trade partners of the US and the role of Indian-Americans in the corporate and scientific landscapes of America has been much documented.
For India, the US is now a dependable source of crude oil (India imports more than 80 percent of crude) and this becomes even more vital at a time when Iran is under strict US sanctions and the West Asia is increasingly becoming a conflict zone (recently, two Saudi oil facilities came under a drone attack crippling international crude oil supply). The Howdy, Modi! event was only a precursor to talks between the two countries on topics ranging from India reducing tariffs on American almonds and cherries to the US restoring India’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status. Recently, both the countries had hiked tariffs on each other’s exports, an issue that is set to be discussed in detail when both heads of respective governments interact one-on-one.
This aside, the actions of the ‘often-unpredictable’ President Trump are viewed very closely by other Asian countries, especially China and Pakistan. The trade dispute between the US and China has dragged on for long and no talks have produced a positive outcome yet. In this light, India is being considered by many American companies as one of the most favorable destinations for establishing production facilities and reaping the benefits of affordable labour and the recent strides India has made in the Ease of Doing Business Index. China fears the proximity of its neighbor India (with whom it has a long-standing border dispute) and the US. It was the US that exerted pressure on China to backtrack on its resolve to place obstacles in the way of Pakistani Masood Azhar being listed by the UNSC as a global terrorist.
The strategy of Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan to corner India on the subject of abrogation of Article 370 (that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and blocked the state’s integration with India) has backfired with the US President already backpedaling on his ‘Kashmir mediation’ statement and the thunderous approval in the Howdy, Modi! event by the Indian diaspora of the revocation of article 370 in front of President Trump. Mr. Trump must have rightly realised that the citizens of his own country and the media alike favour India’s stance on Jammu and Kashmir and that even an ounce of support to the Pakistan’s ill-intentions can earn the wrath of Indian-Americans, a sizeable and formidable community in America.
The Howdy, Modi! episode is set to go down in history as a moment when the head of government of two of world’s largest democracies and economic powers shared the platform during an informal event and re-wrote the rule book of bilateral relations between India and the US. Amid the chants of Bharat Mata ki Jai and loud cheers for PM Modi’s resolve to usher in change, one must compliment the organisers of the event, which includes the likes of Mr. Vijay Chauthaiwale and Mr. Manoj Ladwa. The unsung heroes also include the present Indian ambassador to the United States, Mr. Harsh Vardhan Shringla and many others. The attendees of the event and the wide support of the US media are the other contributing factors to the feat that the Howdy, Modi! event achieved.
(Author is a financial consultant)