On the first day of his six-day visit to the US, Prime Minister Narendra Modi combined business with politics. He held a ‘round-table’ meeting with top executives of 17 global energy companies, saw to the signing of an agreement between US natural gas company Tellurian Inc and India’s state-run Petronet LNG.
According to the agreement between Tellurian and Petronet, the Indian company will invest $2.5 billion in Tellurian’s proposed Driftwood LNG export terminal in Louisiana, in exchange for the rights to 5 million metric tonnes of LNG per year over 40 years. The two companies will endeavour to conclude the transaction agreements by March 31, 2020, a statement from Tellurian said.
The PM landed in Houston on Saturday morning and held these meetings in the evening. The PM and US President addressed an estimated 50,000 members of the Indian diaspora at an event termed Howdy, Modi! at the NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday morning local time. Several members of the US Congress also attended the event. Some of them spoke at the event, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who recalled Abhraham Lincoln's message of malice towards none and charity for all. Hoyer said India was striving to secure its future according to Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and Nehru's vision of democracy, where respect for pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual.
According to Indian officials, the CEOs told the PM that there has been considerable improvement in doing business in India. They welcomed slashing of corporate tax rates. The CEOs spoke of enhancing their respective companies’ footprint in India and appreciated the Indian government for steps taken to deregulate the sector, the MEA spokesperson said.
“The memorandum of understanding signed in Houston is a part of wider energy cooperation under the India-US Strategic Energy Partnership and will further deepen our energy trade and investment relationship,” Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said in a tweet.
At the meeting with energy sector top executives, Modi was accompanied by India’s Petroleum Secretary M M Kutty, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, and India’s Ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
India and the US intend to deepen their strategic energy partnership launched in New Delhi in April last year. As India has reduced oil imports from the US, it could turn to imports from the US for its state-run firms such as Indian Oil Corporation.
Seifi Ghasemi, CEO of Air Products, said after the meeting that the executives suggested to Modi about hydrogen technology. “Specific suggestions that they (CEOs) made was about India has a lot of coal, especially low quality coal. They said they have technologies that they can convert that coal to synthetic gas, which can be used for making chemicals and reduce India’s dependence on imported oil,” said Ghasemi.
The CEOs present in the meeting included those from Air Products, Baker Hughes, BP plc, Cheniere Energy, Dominion Energy, Emerson Electric Company, ExxonMobil, Perot Group and Hillwood, IHS Markit, LyondellBasell Industries, McDermott, Schlumberger, Tellurian Inc, Total S.A., Vinmar International, and Westlake Chemical.
“Innovative technology was given a high priority. It was great to understand that high priority was given to reduction of carbon footprint and that India would welcome energy industries with open arms that can help with PM’s Make In India concept,” Rajesh Desai, senior vice-president, Fluor Corporation, told PTI.
Mike Train, president of Emerson, told PTI, “We had a number of recommendations on ease of doing business.”
Vijay Goradia from Vinmar said that goals and expectations for India’s energy security and reduction of carbon emissions and overall reduction in pollution are not mutually exclusive.
In a politically significant gesture since he is facing criticism from some Indian American groups, the Prime Minister also met a group of Kashmiri Pandits promising to “build a new Kashmir” which would be for everyone, and representatives of Bohra Muslim and Sikh communities.
“Kashmir mein naee hava bah rahee hai (new winds are blowing in Kashmir) and we will all build a new Kashmir together that will be for everyone,” he told the delegation. In August, Modi government scrapped provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution.
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability, a “coalition of Indian Americans”, which said it represented India’s minorities and its moderate Hindus and not any “separatist or militant” group, protested Modi’s visit.
The PM thanked the community for their patience for over 30 years. “I had a special interaction with Kashmiri Pandits in Houston,” Modi later tweeted. “In Houston, a delegation of the Kashmiri Pandit community met the Prime Minister. They unequivocally supported the steps being taken for the progress of India and empowerment of every Indian,” MEA Spokesperson tweeted.
The delegation thanked the PM for scrapping of provisions of Article 370 and said that their 700,000 community members were ‘indebted’ to his government. The delegation also presented a memorandum to Modi, requesting him to set up a task force under the Indian home ministry to bring the community together, develop the region and repatriate Kashmiri Pandits.
Some pictures from the 'Howdy Modi' event in Houston
A boy holds a placard with pictures of PM Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump at the Howdy Modi! event in Houston on Sunday
PM holds a baby during a meeting with members of the Indian community
People cheer Modi as he speaks
Modi with Trump during the ' Howdy Modi' event