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Trump to attend ‘Howdy Modi’ rally in rare honour to foreign leader

New York:  US President Donald Trump will make an unprecedented appearance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston on Sunday, the White House has announced.

It is a rare honour for a US President to appear at an ethnic meeting with a foreign leader and has not happened on the scale of the Houston rally with political overtones in recent memory.

“It will be a great opportunity to emphasize 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 on Sunday.

“The event, ‘Howdy, Modi! Shared Dreams, Bright Futures,’ is expected to draw tens of thousands of people,” it added.

According to the Texas India Forum, which is organising the rally, 60 lawmakers are expected the event for which 50,000 people have registered.

The joint appearance will boost Modi’s presence on the US stage and will also be controversial in the divisive US political landscape.

It is also an outreach ahead of next year’s election by Trump to the Indian American community that leans towards the Democratic Party.

According to Pew Research, only 18 percent of Indian Americans support the Republican Party, while 65 percent back the Democrats.

Trump has reached out to the Indian-American community, which is the highest-earning and among the highly educated ethnic group in the US to draw them into the Republican fold with his message of fighting terrorism and promoting pro-growth economic policies.

During the campaign the 2016 election, Trump attended a rally organised by the Republican Hindu coalition with the theme, “Humanity United Against Terror”.

It was the first time a presidential candidate attended a Hindu or an Indian event to seek votes.

He said at that event: “Let me start by stating right up front that if I’m elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House. That, I can guarantee you.”

Indian Americans have contributed about $1 million to the Trump re-election campaign as of June 30, according to research by The Los Angeles Times.

The Democrats competing for the party’s presidential nomination, received about $2 million, the newspaper reported.

The Houston rally will also be a public reiteration of the close relations developing between India and the US under Trump, which came under stress after Trump made ann off the cuff remark in July that Modi had asked him to mediate or “arbitrate” the Kashmir dispute.

India immediately denied the assertion and later US officials also backtracked the Trump assertion.

Trump and Modi met in Biarritz, France, on the sidelines of the G7 meeting, where Trump reassured Modi of his continued support and commitment to furthering relations.

While Trump has supported legal immigration by highly qualified people, which could benefit Indians, it has been overshadowed by his campaign against illegal immigrants.

By conflating his remarks about legal and illegal immigrants his critics, they have caused some anxiety in the Indian American community.

Trump’s appearance at the Houston meeting will be an attempt to reassure the community.

Trump’s strong backing for India against terrorism as well as his administration’s position that removing Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution have strong support in the Indian community.

However, there have also been tension over trade because of Trump’s American First policy.

On the other side, the joint Trump-Modi meeting will draw Modi into the vortex of divisive US politics.

Trump’s public appearances have been dogged by protests and counter-protests.

Protests have centred on the Trump administration’s campaign against illegal immigration and the treatment of those entering the US illegally.

Pakistani groups have been mobilising for a protest outside the “Howdy Mody” event. Other protests can now be expected alongside theirs.