HOUSTON: US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday declared themselves united in a relentless fight against “terrorism,” vowing a close, personal alliance in front of tens of thousands of Indian-Americans.
The two leaders, like-minded nationalists fond of fiery rallies and skeptical of traditional media, heaped praise on each other in an unusual joint appearance inside a football stadium in Houston.
To the bhangra beats of four drummers in saffron turbans, Trump in his dark suit and Modi in a yellow kurta and vest made a grand entrance with arms clenched together to ecstatic cheers from a crowd estimated by organizers at 50,000.
Trump won his biggest applause when he told the crowd, many wearing the saffron of India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, “We are committed to protecting innocent civilians from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Taking the flavor of one of Trump’s own boisterous rallies, Modi later asked the crowd to give a standing ovation to Trump for his stance.
Protesters gathered outside of the NRG Stadium with placards and shirts that said, “Free Kashmir” and accused Modi of violating religious freedom — a cause frequently evoked by the Trump administration.
The event — dubbed, with a Texan twang, “Howdy, Modi!” — was billed as the largest gathering ever by a foreign leader other than the pope in the US.
Hoping to ensure that it remains bipartisan, organizers also invited prominent Democrats.
Presidential contender Bernie Sanders, who did not attend, was more direct, saying that Trump showed a “deafening silence” on the clampdown in Kashmir.
“I know that when a president stays silent in the face of religious persecution, repression and brutality, the dangerous message this sends to authoritarian leaders around the world is, ‘Go ahead, you can get away with it,’” Sanders wrote in the Houston Chronicle.
Speaking of his record as if on the campaign trail, Trump made no mention of many Indians’ concerns over US visa policy — but highlighted his efforts to turn back undocumented immigrants from Central America.
Hardly known for his celebrations of ethnic diversity, Trump said to Indian-Americans, “We love you.”
“You enrich our culture, you uphold our values, you uplift our communities and you are truly proud to be American — and we are proud to have you as Americans,” he said.
Sporting a vest in yellow embroidery from Modi’s home state of Gujarat as well as a cap in the Indian tricolor, Bhavin Parikh of Sacramento, California said he wanted to show support for Modi and called the event “historic” due to Trump’s presence.
But he demurred on whether the gathering indicated backing Trump.
“It is not a question of Democrat or Republican. It’s the American president supporting the Indian prime minister,” he said.