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'Howdy Modi' to be bigger than PM's last 2 visits, say organizers

"We are overbooked. We have a waiting list of nearly 4,000 people and have requested all to tell us in advance if they intend to drop out," Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) head Vijay Chauthaiwale said

Modi

Organisers of Sunday’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, as also those planning to protest the Indian prime minister’s visit, heaved a sigh of relief as tropical storm Imelda weakened in the city on Saturday morning and flood waters receded.

‘Howdy Modi’ organisers said they were confident an estimated 50,000 members of the Indian diaspora will turn up at the NRG Football Stadium, the venue of the three-hour-long event, to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump and to watch performances by Indian cultural troupes.

“We are overbooked. We have a waiting list of nearly 4,000 people and have requested all to tell us in advance if they intend to drop out,” Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) head Vijay Chauthaiwale said. While entry is free for the event, the organisers have issued tickets with seat numbers to all who registered to attend the event. The only expense for those attending will be the $15 parking fee.

Event organisers did not want to comment on the protests planned by some diaspora groups, but sources said there had been intense discussion within the diaspora community with some arguing that they should counter anti-Modi campaign. However, the organisers concluded, particularly after the Trump administration confirmed that the US president will attend the event, that protestors would be best ignored. “Any other problem is unlikely now that the US president is attending. Trump’s presence at the event is the biggest message to Modi’s detractors, including those in Pakistan,” a source said.

With the exceptions of a papal visit or the inauguration of a new president after an election win, such large political events are unheard of in the US, organisers said. With Trump attending, the ‘Howdy Modi’ event promises to be bigger than the PM’s previous two addresses to the Indian diaspora in the US, at the Madison Square Garden in New York in 2014 and the SAP Centre in San Jose in 2015. Those were restricted to the Indian diaspora, but the Houston event is now part of mainstream news in the US, organisers said.

On Saturday, the organisers were busy giving final touches to the event, particularly whether Trump or Modi would speak the last. There is anticipation that the US president, as he has promised, could make a “surprise” announcement to strengthen India-US economic ties. Apart from the US president, more than 20 members of the US Congress and the mayor of Houston will attend.

Event organisers raised $2.4 million in donations, mostly from the Indian diaspora with help also coming from “two-three corporates”. The PM’s first meeting after he lands in Houston will be to attend a roundtable with top executives of 16 of the world’s biggest energy companies.

As many as 1,000 volunteers have helped organise the event. On Sunday, nearly 300 volunteers, mostly members of the Indian diaspora community of Houston, will be present in the stadium to help usher people to their seats.

Mukesh Aghi, president of US India Strategic and Partnership Forum told PTI on the eve of the arrival of Modi to Houston, “This is the largest gathering of Indian-Americans, which is the most affluent minority group in America. They contribute on a per capita basis, the highest to political campaigns.” “And it is in a state that is always significant for elections. It's a win for President Trump to come to Houston to address this gathering in partnership with Prime Minister Modi,” Aghi said.