Houston: In a grand show of friendship and common vision, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump on Sunday shared the stage at a gala event replete with symbolism and substance, as the two leaders pledged to fight terrorism while heaping praise on each other's achievements.
Modi gave tacit support to Trump's 2020 re-election bid at the 'Howdy, Modi' event, saying 'Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar". Trump responded with a smile. Modi's pitch will greatly help the Republican Trump in winning votes of nearly four million Indian-Americans who have traditionally voted for the Democrat Party.
"You can feel the strength and depth of the bonds between our two nations," Modi said in his speech to introduce Trump to a wildly cheering crowd of some 50,000 Indians living in the US at the event. "When I met him for the first time, Trump said India has a true friend in the White House. Your presence here is a great testimony to that," Modi said.
In response, Trump praised Modi's economic reforms and said these have lifted more than three million people out of poverty. "And that is an incredible number," he added.
"In both India and the US, we're seeing something remarkable: Our people are prospering like never before because we are slashing bureaucracy and cutting red tape," Trump said.
The event is a huge diplomatic victory for Modi, who has emerged as an even taller international statesman after displaying such close rapport with Trump the two walked hand in hand after their speeches. Also, Trump did not use his official podium with the official seal, but spoke from behind one that had India and US flags on it.
Trump also did not bring up the issue of Kashmir, where India recently imposed restrictions on civilians after revoking Article 370.
In his address, Modi hit out at Pakistan for its support to terrorism and said India's decision to nullify Article 370 has caused trouble to those who cannot handle their country as he called for a "decisive battle" against terrorism.
Making a strong pitch against terrorism in the presence of President Trump, who joined the mega event in a rare gesture of friendship, Modi asked the crowd to give Trump a standing ovation, as he targeted Pakistan and its Prime Minister Imran Khan, without directly naming them.
"Article 370 encouraged terrorism and separatism in Jammu and Kashmir," he said, asserting that its nullification will allow development and prosperity in the region and end discrimination against women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
In an apparent reference to Pakistan, Modi said that the people who cannot even manage their own country are harbouring terrorism and supporting terrorism. "The entire world knows about this," he added.
"Where do you find conspirators of 9/11 and 26/11 terror attacks," Modi said, referring to terror attacks in the US and Mumbai.
"Time has come for a decisive fight against those who promote and support terrorism," he added.
He emphasized that Trump is strongly supporting India in the battle against terrorism. The audience gave standing ovation to President Trump.
Modi also underscored his government's push for development in India, saying it is the most "discussed" word in the country as his government is "aiming high and achieving higher".
He said the presence of such a big gathering is not confined to arithmetic and that people are seeing new history and chemistry being made.
Modi described in detail his efforts towards clean India campaign and sanitation. He also spoke about his fight against corruption.
"Energy of NRG (stadium) is a witness of synergy between India and the US...My answer to 'Howdy, Modi' is only this: Everything is Fine in India," he said and repeated this in eight different Indian languages.
Emphasising that diversity is the foundation of India's democracy, Modi said the country's various languages are an important identity of its liberal and democratic society.
Referring to the recently concluded elections, Modi said that 610 million voters participated in the elections twice the size of American population.
"Indians are known for patience, but now we are impatient for the development of India in the 21st century," he said.
"We are challenging ourselves," he said, adding that India today is challenging the mindset that nothing will change ever.
Modi also referred to the recent decisions of his government to liberalize and reform the economy including reduction in corporate tax.
He said that he expects positive results from his talks with President Trump in the next few days. "He (Trump) calls me a tough negotiator. But he is an expert in art of the deal. I am learning a lot from him," Modi said.
Modi invited Trump to India with family.
Addressing the gathering, Trump vowed to protect innocent civilians from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and said border security is vital to both America and India as he emphasised on bolstering further the Indo-US security relationship.
"India and the US also understand that to keep our community safe, we must protect our borders. Border security is vital to the US. Border Security is vital to India. And we understand that," he said as Modi clapped.
He emphasised on working closely with India to enhance space co-operation. He praised the contributions of the Indian-Americans, saying they have enriched "our culture and uplifted our values. We are proud to have them as Americans."
Some Sikh and Kashmiri separatist groups staged anti-India protests in the city.
Earlier, Trump said that he and his "friend" Modi will have a "good time" at the mega event.
"Look forward to being with our great India loving community!" he tweeted.
Responding to Trump's tweet, Modi said he was looking forward to meet the US leader in Houston.
Organised by the non-profit Texas India Forum, the event, with the tagline 'Shared Dreams, Bright Futures', will shine light on the tremendous contribution of Indo-Americans in United States and the strong and lasting partnership between the US and India.
Ahead of Prime Minister Modi's address, Indian-American artists from Texas and elsewhere performed cultural programmes.
The “Howdy Modi” event is the largest gathering ever for an elected foreign leader visiting the US, other than the Pope. The event is seen as a reflection of deep and special relationship between India and the US.
From Houston, Modi will fly to New York, where a packed schedule awaits him. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet President Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
It is not be the first time Modi has addressed a large crowd in the United States, which is home to about 4 million Indian-Americans including about 300,000 in Houston and nearby Dallas, according to a Pew Research Centre analysis of US Census data.
Some 19,000 people turned out for a similar event in New York in 2014, and Indian-American volunteers living in US suburbs helped run a telephone blitz of voters in India in the run-up to his May Lok Sabha election campaign.
(With inputs from PTI and Reuters)