President Donald Trump received the endorsement of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they shared a stage in Houston, walking hand in hand in a rock-star-like show to address more than 50,000 Indian Americans -- an influential voter base.
Modi said Trump told him the first time they met that India has a “true friend” in the White House, and the U.S. leader’s presence at the Texas event is proof of that. He also praised Trump on his efforts to drive the U.S. economy and taking ties between the two nations to a new level.
“I admire him for something more: his sense of leadership,” Modi told the gathering at the home of the National Football League’s Houston Texans -- branded as “Howdy Modi!” In his speech, he echoed Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, saying that “he has already made the American economy strong again.”
Indians form about a fifth of 20 million Asian Americans and are often more educated and earn more than other immigrant groups, the Washington-based Pew Research Center found. About 65% of Indian Americans were Democrats or leaned toward the Democrats, according to a 2014 Pew Research paper. That didn’t stop the Republican president from getting loud cheers in the arena, especially when he addressed issues such as security.
Trump responded with praise for Modi’s economic leadership, saying he was at the event to express his “profound gratitude” to the nearly 4 million Indian Americans in the country. He also said the U.S. and India would boost trade, conduct joint military exercises and even team up in space exploration.
“We will pioneer new frontiers in space working together,” Trump said, adding that “we are strengthening our cherished bonds with the nation of India.”
The event is likely the largest in the U.S. for an elected foreign leader. Texas is Modi’s first stop in a week-long U.S. trip, where he hopes to win a better trade deal and convince investors that his government is capable of shoring up India’s slowing economy. Just before leaving for the U.S., Modi’s government announced $20 billion in corporate tax cuts to revive economic growth from a six-year low.
While analysts expect the Trump-Modi joint appearance to ease recent trade tensions between the U.S. and India, it’s also being seen as the president’s attempt to gain support of affluent Indian American voters ahead of next year’s elections.
Modi’s earlier outings to address Indians in New York, London, Sydney and Toronto have been high-octane affairs, with chanting crowds and song-and-dance shows in sold-out stadiums. Texas was exactly that.
The Indian government announced $20 billion worth of tax incentives just before Modi traveled to the U.S., cutting corporate rates on par with the lowest in Asia. The move could help Modi pitch for a better trade deal, more investments from the U.S. corporations he is scheduled to meet with in Houston and New York and resurrect his credentials as a business-friendly leader at a time when the Indian economy is growing at its slowest pace since March 2013.
“Based on his first term, investors expected Modi to embark on a series of reforms, which have not been realized,” said Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst at risk consultancy Eurasia Group. The tax announcement “is a great signal for him to make his pitch to investors to come invest in India.”