'Howdy, Modi!': Trump to join India's Modi at Houston gathering

Organisers say more than 50,000 people are expected to attend the event but activists plan to hold protest against Modi.

    Trump met Modi for bilateral talks during the G7 summit in Biarritz last month [Carlos Barria/Reuters]
    Trump met Modi for bilateral talks during the G7 summit in Biarritz last month [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

    US President Donald Trump will join Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a gathering of Indian-Americans in Houston, the White House said, in a show of the bond between the two leaders.

    The September 22 rally - dubbed, with a touch of Texan twang, "Howdy, Modi!" - will mark a rare joint appearance between a US president and a foreign leader before an ethnic community and will be the pair's third meeting this year.

    Organisers say that more than 50,000 people have registered for the event, which will take place inside NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans football team.

    Later, Modi will head to New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly on September 27.

    The gathering is "a great opportunity to emphasise the strong ties between the people of the United States and India, to reaffirm the strategic partnership between the world's oldest and largest democracies and to discuss ways to deepen their energy and trade relationship," the White House said.

    The White House said Trump would travel the same day to Ohio to showcase an Australian-owned factory alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who will be on a state visit.

    The two joint appearances amount to a day-long attempt to nurture relationships with foreign leaders by Trump, whose brash style and outspoken remarks have frequently unnerved allies.

    The rally with Modi indicates the two countries have turned the page on an incident in July when Trump baffled India by saying, in a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, that Modi had sought mediation on Kashmir, a flashpoint for conflict between the nuclear-armed powers.

    India has, for decades, rejected any outside role in Kashmir. Last month, India revoked the autonomous status granted to Indian-administered Kashmir and suspended communications for much of the Muslim-majority region.

    India's actions, which include the jailing of thousands of civilians, have drawn criticism from the UN human rights chief and rights groups.

    Reaching across the aisle

    Trump and Modi have frequently drawn comparisons to each other, both two right-wing leaders having been elected on vows to promote the identity of the majority community.

    The Modi government recently excluded nearly 2 million people from a citizenship list and plans to change the citizenship law to ban Muslim immigrants - actions that have drawn parallels to Trump's hardline anti-immigrant stance as well his administration's ban on Muslim asylum seekers.

    Organisers hope to keep the September 22 rally non-partisan, with a cultural performance planned and invited speakers including Steny Hoyer, the number-two Democrat in the House of Representatives.

    The joint event showcases "the personal chemistry and friendship" between Trump and Modi, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the Indian ambassador to the United States, told AFP news agency.

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    "These are two leaders who are used to thinking outside of the box," he said, describing the joint appearance as "unconventional and unique."

    "The event will also reflect the strong bipartisan support there has been for US-India relations," he said, describing Indian-Americans as an "organic bridge" between the world's two largest democracies.

    Shringla said that Modi would also meet in Houston with energy companies before heading to New York for the UN General Assembly.

    Earlier this month, the Indian ambassador tweeted a photo of his meeting with Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist. He deleted the tweet hours later after he was criticised for meeting Banon, who has been accused of pandering to white supremacists in the US.

    Activists in the US are planning to hold protests against Modi, who has been accused of human rights violations in Kashmir and moving India away from secularism.

    Some four million Americans trace their origins to India and the community is among the most educated and prosperous in the country.

    The average Indian-American household earned approximately $100,000 in 2015, nearly double the US average, according to the Pew Research Center.

    But while Modi will likely enjoy a rock-star reception in Houston, Indian-Americans are not expected to be a major base for Trump as he gears up to seek another term in next year's election.

    Some 84 percent of Indian-Americans voted in 2016 for his rival Hillary Clinton, making them among the most Democratic-leaning ethnic groups, according to polling by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

    During the 2016 campaign, Trump took part in a rally in New Jersey at which he declared, awkwardly, "I love Hindu".

    SOURCE: News agencies