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How Modi, Trump stand to gain from Texas event

A single event cannot mean much. But it gives a backdrop to a diplomatic conversation searching for some wins.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 17, 2019, 06.22 AM IST
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The Texas event could prove to be a big milestone in leveraging the most potent asset India has in the form of the Indian-American population to push its agenda with Washington.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi sharing his stage with US President Donald Trump in Texas, at a time when Kashmir is a prominent issue, rekindles a symbolism that another Indian PM once brought to bear to drive home a difficult message on Kashmir to a then-recalcitrant Washington.

The early 1990s were a challenging time in Kashmir & a difficult period in India-US relations. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had to contend with a newly elected US president, Bill Clinton, who even named Kashmir in a UN speech while referring to human rights violations across the world. Clinton had also appointed Robin Raphel as the first assistant secretary of State for South Asia. Raphel left no opportunity to castigate India on Kashmir.

It was with this backdrop that Narasimha Rao addressed a joint sitting of both chambers of the US Congress in 1994. He brought up Texas to make the point why Jammu & Kashmir was an inseparable part of India. “Indeed, in 1868, your Supreme Court had to say, and I quote, ‘When Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation.

All the obligations of perpetual union and all the guarantees of republican government in the union attached at once to the State. It was the incorporation of a new member into the political body, and it was complete final.’ India accepts this statement as truly characteristic of a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious republic like India or the United States, and as totally unassailable.”

Texas was a part of Mexico, but had declared independence in the 1830s. It later entered an agreement of annexation with the US. Washington ratified the agreement, resulting in hostilities between the US and Mexico, followed by territorial disputes over where the boundary should pass. Interestingly, this is now the boundary on which Trump wants to build ‘The Wall’ between the US and Mexico.

Twenty-five years after Narasimha Rao borrowed from US history to convey India’s national resolve on Kashmir, the coming together of Modi and Trump in Texas is an expression of both clout and solidarity, just before the Indian PM heads for the United Nations General Assembly for the first time after the government suspended Article 370 and split the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two Union territories.

We Have the Numbers
It’s important not to lose sight of the political dynamics at play here. An expected 50,000-strong gathering of Indian-Americans is huge by US standards.

It would be among the largest gatherings Modi has mustered outside India since he first became PM in 2014. It’s twice the size of Madison Square Garden in New York, or Wembley in London, where David Cameron, then British PM, showed up.

Now, Texas has traditionally voted Republican. But going by current approval ratings hovering at 45-46%, Trump has fallen behind in this state.

While New Delhi will try to emphasise the bipartisan nature of the event by inviting prominent Democrats, the fact is that Trump will stand to benefit more as an incumbent US president who is a friend of Modi. It also may help pre-empt any anti-Indian, anti-immigrant talk that the Trump campaign may be planning ahead of the presidential election.

Texas also has a larger economic significance in the India-US bilateral relationship. It represents one happy spot, in an otherwise cluttered conversation on trade. Indian oil entities have cut big deals with Texan companies on import of oil and gas. In fact, the Indian side has estimated that close to $3 billion of the trade deficit with the US will be reduced thanks to these imports. This was a major issue for the Trump government as it continuously kept pushing India to bring down the deficit.

A single event by itself cannot mean much. But it does provide a political backdrop to a diplomatic conversation desperately searching for some wins, especially on the economic front. India will look to create a positive momentum from this, and close crucial negotiations and deals that have been hanging fire for some reason or other.

But, most of all, the Texas event could prove to be a big milestone in leveraging the most potent asset India has in the form of the Indian-American population to push its agenda with Washington. Modi had identified organising the Indian diaspora in the US as a key goal quite early in his first term.

Raring to Run
The idea has always been to create an effective, influential Indian lobby that cannot be ignored even within US domestic polity. The numbers were always there. But they were always disparate and in pockets.

The idea that BJP can canvass effectively enough numbers in Modi’s name to make up such an expected large gathering is, in itself, a reflection of how Indian body politic has begun to intersect with the US electoral dynamic. Which is why a stage in Texas has become as, if not more, important in compelling leaderships on both sides to cooperate — be it on Kashmir or about electoral votes.

The views expressed by the author are his own
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