The Other side of Howdy, Modi! event

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US President Donald Trump welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a rally in Texas where they showered praise over each other. Almost 50,000 Indian Americans and Non-Resident Indians gathered at NRG Stadium on Sunday for the “Howdy, Modi!” event.

Amidst the pomp and show of the huge event, the Indian mainstream media barely mentioned that outside the stadium, thousands of protesters chanted against Modi over the human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir as well as lynchings of India’s minorities, including Muslims, who constitute about 170 million of India’s population.

Modi began his address by saying “When you say ‘Howdy, Modi’, my answer is that everything is fine in India”, and he also added he was “seeking equal status and development” for Kashmir. After the abrogation of Article 370, Modi administration launched a security clampdown on Kashmir and locked up thousands including politicians and social activists. Internet connections have remained suspended in Kashmir since August 5, 2019 drawing flak from numerous human rights groups.

The protesters focused on issues such as the rising incidents of mob lynching, the dilution of Article 370, the National Register of Citizens in Assam, extra-judicial killings, religious persecution and caste oppression. One protester highlighted the conviction of IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt while another drew inspiration from the movie Apollo 13 , “Houston we have a problem. It’s Modi.”

Popular Indian American stand-up comic Hasan Minhaj was denied entry into the Howdy Modi event for his remarks on PM Modi while simultaneously, he was being honoured for his jokes inside the event. In Hasan Minhaj’s own words, “I was in parking lot watching this whole thing on live stream while I’m looking at the stadium. And I am watching the program. And during the program they’re honouring the prominent Indian-Americans. And then they show a photo of me on the Jumbotron and people start clapping. So they were honoring me for my comedy while also blackmailing me and blackballing me and kicking me out for my comedy,” he added.

The event was supposed to build a perception that India and US have very good trade relations and all is going well between the two countries. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Modi may have spent an inconsiderate amount of time holding hands and showering praise on each other but right after the event, India and US failed to seal the deal on import tariffs.

US wants India to reduce import duties on  information and communication technology (ICT) products, such as costly mobile phones and smartwatches, which is bound to make Apple products a lot cheaper. India had earlier considered the proposal but right now, no positive steps have been taken in this direction.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products make up a meager $407 million, out of the $35.54 billion of total inbound shipments from the US. Also, US is pressurizing India for a free trade agreement (FTA) since a year but India has continuously resisted. Indian officials argue that India has to gain little from this deal because the import duties for goods coming from the US are already among the lowest globally.

Earlier this year, US had cut off India’s duty free access to American market under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). This might be one of the reasons India is resisting to sign an ICT pact with the US. Apart from GSP, US has also called India a “high-tariff” nation citing the increased duties on Harley Davidson motorcycles. This shows that Howdy Modi event was not as big a success as pro-establishment mouthpieces made it look like, India and US continue to struggle to sign a mutually beneficial trade deal.

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