(CNSNews.com) – There were extraordinary scenes in Houston, Texas on Sunday as the leader of the world’s largest democracy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, welcomed President Trump onto a rally platform to address a crowd estimated at 50,000, almost exclusively Indian Americans.
Modi did so on behalf of “over a billion Indians” – hundreds of millions of whom he said were “glued to their TV” despite the lateness of the hour in India – as well as people of Indian heritage in America and around the globe.
“We are witnessing history in the making,” he said, hailing the strength of the developing U.S.-India relationship.
In his comments, Trump touched on issues that have resonated with conservatives in the Indian American community, such as strong business ties, jobs, action against corruption, merit-based immigration – and security concerns.
When Trump referred to the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism” the audience came to its feet, and Modi was seen nodding, before himself standing and joining in the applause.
“Today we honor all of the brave American and Indian military service members who work together to safeguard our freedom,” Trump said. “We stand proudly in defense of liberty and we are committed to protecting innocent civilians from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Entitled “Howdy Modi,” the event was reportedly one of the largest receptions ever on American soil for a foreign leader. (Modi addressed similar events in New York City in 2014 and Silicon Valley in 2016, drawing sizeable, but smaller audiences than the one in Houston.)
Remarkably, the rally was honoring a politician who was denied a U.S. visa for almost a decade over allegations of religious intolerance.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist, was chief minister of India’s Gujarat state when clashes between Hindus and Muslims in 2002 killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
Accused of doing nothing to stop the violence, he was denied a visa by the George W. Bush State Department in 2005, a restriction that remained in place through President Obama’s first term and was only lifted after Modi became prime minister in 2014.
Outside Houston’s NRG Stadium, protestors demonstrated against Modi’s visit. The main focus of placards and slogans was not the violence in Gujarat in 2002, however, but his government’s controversial recent move to change the status of the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, the Muslim majority region divided and disputed between India and archrival Pakistan.
According to Indian media reports, during his Hindi-language address in Houston, Modi jabbed at Pakistan, without naming the country, saying that those who were unhappy about his government’s decision on Kashmir “are the same people who cannot govern their own country” and who “shield terrorism and nurture it.”
“The whole world knows them very well,” he said. “Their identity is in the sponsorship of terror and the world knows it.”
“Be it 9/11 in America or 26/11 in Mumbai, where can the conspirators be found?” Modi asked. “The time has come for a decisive battle to be fought against terrorism and those backing it.”
26/11 refers to the 2008 terror attack in India’s commercial capital during which Islamic gunmen killed 166 people, including six Americans.
The attack was carried out by Lashkar e-Toiba (LeT), a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, whose leader, Pakistani Islamist Hafiz Saeed, has evaded Indian justice for more than a decade. Since 2012, the U.S. has offered a $10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice.
‘Joy and appreciation’
Introducing Trump in English, Modi hailed his “sense of leadership, his passion for America, his concern for every American, his belief in American future, and a strong resolve to make America great again.”
Modi recalled when Trump was running for the White House in the fall of 2016, he posted a campaign ad in which pledged that the Indian and Hindu American community would have in him “a true friend in the White House.”
That ad ended with Trump saying, “Ab ki bar Trump sarkar” – a Hindi phrase meaning “Next time a Trump government,” and a play on Modi’s own campaign slogan when he ran successfully for election in 2014, “Ab ki bar Modi sarkar.”
“The words of candidate Trump, ‘Ab ki bar Trump sarkar’ rang loud and clear,” Modi said. “And his celebration of Diwali in the White House lit up millions of faces with joy and appreciation.”
White House officials say Modi asked Trump to join him at the rally when the two met on the sidelines of the G7 summit in France last month. In his remarks in Houston, Trump said when Modi had asked if it would be possible, he had replied, “I’ll make it possible.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were some 4.4 million Indian Americans in 2017, making it the second-largest Asian ethnic group in the U.S., after Chinese Americans. Texas accounted for the second largest population (445,055), after California (848,600).
A poll by Delhi-based Centre for Voting Opinion & Trends in Election Research found that in 2016, 62.5 percent of Indian Americans in Texas voted for Hillary Clinton, compared to 18.8 percent for Trump.