On September 22, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended a rally in Houston, Texas, amidst a thunderous welcome from 50,000 Indian Americans chanting “Howdy, Modi!” He appeared on stage along with the US president, Donald Trump, who was introduced by Modi as “my friend, a friend of India, a great American president.” Trump can be seen basking in glory as Modi heaped lavish praise on him, culminating with the Hindi phrase “Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar,” a campaign catchphrase Trump had used in 2016 to woo Indian American voters. The slogan essentially means, “This time, it’s the turn of the Trump administration.”
Not to be outdone, when it was his turn to address the crowd, Trump continued the lovefest with Modi, saying, “I’m so thrilled to be here in Texas with one of America’s greatest, most devoted and most loyal friends, Prime Minister Modi of India.”
Modi and Trump played a calculated game scratching each other’s back in front of an influential Indian American crowd. Trump essentially secured Modi’s tacit endorsement for his 2020 reelection campaign, while Modi successfully managed to have Trump on his side just in time before the 74th United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in New York. In his address to the UNGA, Modi purposefully ignored speaking about the turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir where, earlier this year, he had revoked the state’s special autonomous status mandated by the Indian Constitution. Instead, Modi focused on talking about the progress India has made under his governance. In contrast, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech focused heavily on how India has clamped down on Kashmir over the past two months.
Without doubt, India has seen progress under Modi’s leadership. That progress, however, has come at the cost of persecution of minorities in India. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promotes Hindu interests while subtly chipping away at the rights of the minority Christian and Muslim communities. I have spoken to my Christian and Muslim friends from India who have shared with me how disenfranchised and insecure they feel under BJP’s rule and Modi’s leadership.
The Ghosts of Godhra
Before ascending to the highest office in India, Modi was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat between 2001 and 2014 — 13 long years. He had not been in office even for a year before the infamous 2002 Godhra riots broke out, in which more than 1,000 Muslims were massacred. The riots occurred in retaliation for an incident in which 60 Hindu pilgrims burned to death in a train compartment. An Indian government investigation did reveal in 2005 that the fire was caused by an accident and not as a result of a Muslim attack on the train that fateful day. In the immediate aftermath, reason did not prevail as communal riots broke out, and Muslims were systematically slaughtered.
Many still believe that Modi has blood on his hands, allowing the carnage against Muslims to happen on his watch. The gruesome killings and rape went on not for one or two days, but for a full two-month period, something that would have been impossible without Modi turning a blind eye and withholding law enforcement. Modi was unapologetic soon after the incident and avoided talking about it for years, before expressing a token apology in 2012, a full decade after the incident. Modi has successfully shirked prosecution for his role in the tragedy, while some victims, like Bilkis Bano, had to wait 17 years after the events to receive some kind of restitution for the atrocities committed against her and her family, even though it is questionable if money can ever heal her suffering.
Modi was ostracized by the international community for his role in the Godhra riots. The United States had banned Modi from its soil for his complicity in the massacre. Britain instated a 10-year boycott that ended only in 2012. This diplomatic cold shoulder from the international community melted away when the BJP came to power in 2014 and Modi became the prime minister of what is today the second most populous country and the world’s third-largest economy.
A Campaign Speech
In sharp contrast to the earlier visa ban, Modi has been allowed to hold one of the largest rallies in the US by a foreign leader, with America’s president appearing on stage with him. Trump’s words and actions have shown him to be a racist and a misogynist, a xenophobe and an Islamophobe with no morals or scruples. By endorsing Trump in front of a large Indian American crowd, Modi conveyed to the world that he had no qualms standing up for such a person. Even though Modi and Trump share the same distrust and dislike of Muslims, it is a surprise that he went as far as he did to deliver what resembled a campaign speech on behalf of Donald Trump.
The Indian diaspora who cheered Trump along with Modi ought to realize that Trump can turn on a dime against the brown-skinned immigrant community from India. Trump has used the unlawful actions of outliers in the Hispanic community to paint Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. There is nothing that would stop him from turning against Indian Americans should that provide him political expediency in some form. Trump has emboldened this nation of immigrants to openly express racist sentiments and bully people of color. The Indian Americans who cheered Trump ought to realize that their kids continue to get bullied in schools, labeled with terms such as “curry n****r” and “dot head” as the nation witnesses an uptick in racist and sexist behavior since Trump gained prominence in the political arena.
Narendra Modi had no business campaigning for Trump in Houston. With his bear hugs, handshakes and campaign speech for Trump, Modi and his devoted followers are demonstrating their shortsightedness, mortgaging the future of their own children in return for favors from the US president facing impeachment.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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