Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to the United States this weekend for his first U.S. visit since winning reelection in a landslide victory last May. His itinerary include a high-profile address to the United Nations General Assembly and meetings with top business leaders in New York.
But the centerpiece of his trip will not be in New York but rather in Texas: a massive rally in Houston where Modi is slated to speak to more than 50,000 attendees who registered for the now sold-out event. Although the majority of the audience will be comprised of members of the Indian diaspora, dozens of U.S. elected officials, including local and state officials, Members of Congress and several U.S. governors will also be present. Days ago, the White House announced that President Trump will join Modi on stage in Houston “to underscore the important partnerships between the United States and India.”
On the surface, Houston appears to be an unconventional choice to hold the event. Washington, New York City and San Francisco have historically hosted Indian leaders in the past, given their importance as the political, financial and tech centers of the country, respectively.
But the location of Modi’s latest visit is revealing. A joint appearance by Modi and Trump in America’s oil and gas capital reflects a desire by Washington and New Delhi to deepen their bilateral energy cooperation. Last year, Washington and Delhi signed a U.S.-India Strategic Energy Partnership to enhance collaboration in this arena. Both countries believe the full promise of energy trade remains unfulfilled and want to increase cooperation, particularly with respect to shale and liquefied natural (LNG) gas.
India’s massive energy demand coupled with its limited domestic supply makes it a huge potential market for American oil and gas exporters. Rising tensions elsewhere around the world have also created conditions favorable for greater U.S.-India energy trade. American sanctions against Iran have forced New Delhi to stop importing oil from Tehran, traditionally one of its biggest suppliers. China has ceased purchases of American oil in February as a result of an ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing.
As a result, circumstances appear ripe for greater cooperation. Unsurprisingly, a major component of Modi’s agenda are meetings with several energy companies eyeing deals toward this end.
Beyond just oil and gas, Houston enjoys its own unique relationship with India. According to data compiled by the city, more than 28 Houston-based companies operate 69 subsidiaries in India. Houston is also the fourth-largest gateway for bilateral trade between the two countries. The South Asian giant is Houston’s 10th largest trading partner, with trade valued at over $4.3 billion, a 36% increase from the previous year. The figure is an impressive one, particularly when one considers the ongoing trade irritants testing the broader U.S.-India economic relationship.
Houston also shares close cultural ties with India. More than 150,000 Houston residents identify as Indian American. More than half this figure were born in India. The presence of such a large diaspora community helps explain why Houston was chosen to host the Modi event.
Like other similar diaspora-focused rallies, Modi has headlined in New York City and San Francisco in the past, the event is a celebration not just of the U.S.-India strategic partnership, but of the Indian-American community and its myriad contributions to the United States.
Cultivating the Indian diaspora has been a major objective of Modi since he took office more than 5 years ago. The Indian premier is unique amongst his predecessors in not just recognizing the value of the millions of Indians living abroad, but actively courting them as well. Modi views the global Indian community as citizen ambassadors of India, succeeding in their home countries, but also contributing to India’s growth and development agenda.
MR Rangaswami, a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of the famed Indiaspora Forum notes, “In Houston, the Indian-American community will witness a historic milestone in U.S.-India relations. There is no limit to what these two countries—and their citizens—can achieve together.”