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Carefully Scripted

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The ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, on Sunday had many components, each with its own narrative and objective. Primarily, it was an interaction with NRIs and People of Indian Origin, the kind Prime Minister Modi has consistently had during his US visits. He has used these events to keep the Indian lobby active in that country so it feels motivated to do what it can for the home country. This was a force that had been underutilised by his predecessors. That this lobby has leveraged its clout successfully over the past few years is evident from the presence of President Donald Trump and the many other prominent politicians at the Houston event. The Diaspora, thus, provided Modi an excellent platform to tee-off his US visit. Then, it required a Modi to utilise the opportunity to the full. Politically, there was a trade-off between him and Trump. The President came out unconditionally against ‘Islamic Terrorism’, which is the bane of every society, thereby putting his weight behind all that India does to combat this scourge in its part of the world. Modi, on his part, not so subtly endorsed Trump’s bid for another term. The maska applied was quite thick, even by Indian standards. Credit must go to the member of the PM’s staff who penned the speech introducing Trump to the gathering – the shayars of Wajid Ali Shah’s court would have considered it a sehra equal to their best! Normally, in an Indian gathering of this sort, Modi would have taken a few cracks at the opposition, particularly the Congress, but he refrained from doing so in the presence of ‘others’. This more or less was a nod to Shashi Tharoor backing him as India’s representative on a foreign land. This shows that, although, the bonhomie and plaudits were somewhat over the top, the entire narrative was carefully scripted. The opposition within India and abroad allege that the entire event was planned three months in advance, but that is exactly the point – which other Indian leader has thought that far ahead and had the organisational ability to deliver? Modi reserved his criticism for Pakistan and as the visit unfolds, there will be more of the same. The ‘all is well’ theme was not just about India’s development path, but also hinted at the situation in Kashmir. It was generally a hand’s off message for everybody, including Trump who smilingly acknowledged that fact. Overall, if things continue down this road, India and the US can come together on the basis of mutual advantage as never before, under two leaders acutely aware of their self-interest and not encumbered by ideology.