HOUSTON: Some 50,000 Indian-Americans are due to pack into a Houston stadium Sunday (Sep 22) for a rally with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, joined by US President Donald Trump, in a rare mass show of support for a foreign leader on US soil.
The event gives Modi, a nationalist facing international criticism over a recent crackdown in disputed Kashmir, a chance to energise his relationship with Indian-Americans who are active political supporters. Trump, meanwhile, will face a largely foreign-born audience that may not prove receptive to his typical strident anti-immigrant messages.
Houston is a rare Democratic stronghold in Republican-dominated Texas and serves as the economic anchor of a state that will be critical to Trump's 2020 reelection bid. Polls show tepid support by Indian-American voters, some 75 per cent of whom voted for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2016.
But organisers of the "Howdy, Modi!" event, due to kick off in the morning with a 90 minute cultural programme featuring 400 costumed dancers, say Trump can expect a receptive audience.
"Trump is completely welcomed by the community," said Preeti Dawra, a spokeswoman for the Texas India Forum that organised the event. "His presence is an indication of his support and endorsement of the strengthening of India's relations with America. This event is about strengthening those ties."
It will not be the first time Modi, who heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has addressed a large crowd in the United States, which is home to about 4 million Indian-Americans including about 300,000 in Houston and nearby Dallas, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of US Census data.
Some 19,000 people turned out for a similar event in New York in 2014, and Indian-American volunteers living in US suburbs helped run a telephone blitz of voters in India in the runup to his May reelection campaign.
"Modi's coming here shows the importance of the Indian-American diaspora for him," Dawra said. "We will show him on Sunday the enthusiasm the diaspora has for his leadership."
Modi's visit to Houston comes ahead of this week's UN General Assembly in New York and amid a particularly tense time on the subcontinent.
The Indian leader further strained long-simmering relations with Pakistan last month by revoking the partial autonomy enjoyed by Muslim-majority Kashmir, which both nuclear-armed countries claim. Modi's move has been met by international criticism.
Pakistan has condemned the crackdown and its Prime Minister Imran Kh