President Donald Trump's decision to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an Indian diaspora event next week in Houston, Texas, has raised hopes that trade differences between the two nations will be eased.
The White House on Monday confirmed Trump's presence at a gathering of Indian Americans -- an influential voter base in the U.S. -- on Sept. 22, where PM Modi is expected to address a 50,000-strong crowd.
A special gesture by @POTUS, signifying the special friendship between India and USA!— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 16, 2019
Delighted that President @realDonaldTrump will join the community programme in Houston on the 22nd.
Looking forward to joining the Indian origin community in welcoming him at the programme.
Trade tensions between the U.S. and India have increased in recent months, after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer canceled India's Generalized System of Preferences duty-free benefits and India hiked tariffs on 28 U.S. products. Still, signs there could be a limited trade deal during PM Modi's next visit have grown stronger after India agreed to step up U.S. energy import orders from the current $4 billion.
The 'Howdy Modi!' event in Texas will be the first stop in PM Modi's week-long U.S. trip. Apart from addressing the United Nations' Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23, PM Modi is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on September 27. His address will come on the same day as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. He's expected to criticize India for not lifting movement and communications restrictions in Kashmir, imposed after Modi's government scrapped autonomy in the region that's a source of dispute between the nuclear neighbors. PM Modi is also expected to meet with CEOs of energy companies in Houston.
The prime minister's office didn't respond to calls seeking comment.
The joint appearance at Houston during PM Modi's first U.S. visit after his landslide election victory in May could also benefit both leaders politically, according to analysts. Trump's presence could help PM Modi signal to his supporters that his floundering economic policies could benefit from backing from the world's largest economy. For Trump, the event could be an ideal platform to address affluent Indian American voters.
"In the upcoming 2020 elections, the Democrats are reportedly stepping up efforts to flip Red states like Texas. Traditionally, Indian Americans have leaned to voting for the Democrats," said Kashish Parpiani, fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. "But as political polarization grips both India and the U.S., the Indian American base in there is faced with a realignment of sorts - towards the sort of nationalism championed by the Modi dispensation back home."
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.
PM Modi's earlier outings to address Indians in New York, London, Sydney and Toronto have evoked rock-star welcomes, with chanting crowds and song-and-dance shows in sold-out stadiums.
"In such a scenario, for Trump the nearly 270,000 strong Indian American base in Texas becomes a lucrative vote bank to vie for - by projecting himself and his administration to be champions of greater U.S. alignment with Modi's India," Parpiani said.
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