BY JAYANTA GHOSAL
In the Howdy Modi event at the NRG Stadium in Houston - the Indian side reached with a big podium for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The SPG installed it. But, the other side, the US Secret Service also came with a podium - though smaller. Both podiums were installed on September 20, two days before the event.
Then SPG and the US Secret Service held a meeting with Texas India Forum, the organiser of the event. the BJP's overseas organisation representatives were also there. India's suggestion was that two separate podiums did not look nice. So, the Indian podium was accepted as it was bigger because 25 senators, mayors and governors would be there. Then another problem occurred - behind the podium, the US Secret Service installed a big seal of the US government. But, the American side removed that too after a request from the Indian side. India's plan was install two separate national flags at the back.
So it was one stage - both national flags were there and the national songs of both nations were played out - and all decided just one day before the event. They could not do all this earlier and bad weather came in the way. Heavy rain brought the city to a standstill. It was all organised at the last moment but it was Modi's PMO that took the upper hand in the planning. Not Trump.
The American way
Another interesting observation - there was no chair on the podium. So, when Modi introduced Trump and spoke, the US President was standing beside him. Then Trump spoke. Later, both took their seats in front of the podium. One Indian diplomat said this was not the Indian way of doing things. "We usually give chairs, provide tables, like at Vigyan Bhawan events. This is American style. Modi adopted the American style for the Indian diaspora event.
But Trump came late to the event. He was late by an hour-and-a-half. Modi reached earlier and he stayed in a hotel a little far from the venue. Other Indian delegates stayed in two hotels near the stadium itself. Modi came to the venue on time. Inside the stadium the organisers made two special rooms - for Modi and the US President. Modi sat there and talked to Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, India's Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin and India's Ambassador to the US Harsh Shringla. He did not waste a single moment and had done all the home work for the seven-day trip. He took briefing on everything. He talked to the Democrats as well.
Modi and US delegates
Before Trump's arrival, 25 senior senators and other delegates, including local Democrat Mayor of Houston were present. They were on stage before Modi arrived and Modi met them one by one. The Indian side had decided the previous day in what order they would be introduced to the Prime Minister. India marked the place for the delegates. It was like the reception for a head of state at Rashtrapati Bhavan. But nobody was with Modi and it was self-introduction. The senator were amazed that Modi already knew their names and profiles. The Trump administration had already informed Modi that he the US President would be late to the venue. So the Prime Minister took more time to talk to these 25 delegates. There was a lot of chit-chat. It was impossible to know what was being said. All one saw was a lot of laughter as Modi met the delegates.
Waiting for Trump
As Trump was late to arrive at the venue, there was a gap of half-an-hour or so after the introductions with Modi were over. The musical programme was over too but the organisers requested them to perform for a while longer. And they did. So it was extempore - Indian-American fusion. The Prime Minister said "Well done!" to the enthusiastic boys and girls .
If there was a problem at the conference, it was not the bad weather. It is true that Taxas declared an emergency because of the heavy rains - the airport was virtually closed for one day but disaster management by the local authorities was superb. The main problem was accommodation for the nearly 60,000 delegates. There were only two hotels near the stadium. And they were not too big. It was a house full. So, a lot of Indian delegates had to share rooms. Indian delegates accepted that for Modi.
The organiser of the 'Howdy Modi' event was the Texas India Forum headed by Anand Desai. He has been based in Texas for several decades. He is a Gujarati businessman and the most interesting thing is that he is active in Democratic politics in the state. But to invite Trump to the event, he organised everything professionally. He was the one who facilitated the presence of Democratic senators and several leaders of the party to the event.
Track II proposal
At the UN building just beside the River East - where Modi gave his speech in UNGA - Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also gave a speech from the same dais after Modi. There was a Track II proposal from the Pakistan side - for both leaders to meet at the UN building suddenly. It could be a sudden but good photo-op. There was a big global media presence. The Pakistanis said UN territory was neutral land, so technically it was not America. There is a big coffee shop in UN building - hearing this a lot of journos were waiting there. The MEA rejected the fake drama!!! One Indian diplomat said - it was a childish proposal! Not serious! Jaishankar said India was ready to talk to Pakistan but not Terroristan!
Modi and Shah
Could you tell who is the person Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls every day when he was in the US?
Easy quiz question?
Yes, he is Mr Amit Shah. These seven days when he was in the US, Amit Shah would look after all the work of his guru. A few things formally and many things informally. Amit Shah informed Modi about what was happening in Kashmir! What was the NRC fallout in Assam, the situation pertaining to the state assembly elections, especially the problem in Karnataka. And much else.
He is the Home Minister but now virtually the No.2 in the cabinet, said one senior BJP leader.
On his last day in the US, Modi was informed that there were heavy rains in Varanasi, his constituency. The Kashi Vishwanath temple and the ghats, like Dasaswamedh, were safe but Godowlia was under water. The evening arti in Ramnagar Raja's place could not held. The arti had also been disrupted on Dasaswamedh Ghat. There were complaints why the storm water drainage system was not working in Varanasi even though the centre had allocated funds for it. Hearing all this, the Prime Minister ordered an inquiry into the matter from New York. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Varanasi and offered prayers on the first day of Navratri.
Apart from Jaishankar, two ministers were in US during the Prime Minister's visit. One was Piyush Goyal and the other, Prakash Javadekar. There was also one minister, who followed the Prime Minister's visit very closely from Delhi - Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
Word is that he is studying the function and impact of drones, following the recent drone attack on Aramco installations in Saudi Arabia. Although he is confident of uninterrupted oil supply and has a diversified basket, he is cautious about what the Saudis will do now. They cut oil production after the attack. He is in touch with the US administration to get updates on oil prices
Arrangements for the media were impressive at Houston. There was a major arrangement on the eighth floor and a media centre on the fourth floor for the electronic media - not only Indian but foreign media representatives well. Ground floor space was limited but 10 prominent Indian channels were present, including agencies. And working space for journalists and camera persons were demarcated. However, one Spanish media channel was there on ground zero! The organisers said that Houston had a significant Spanish population and this was, therefore, necessary.
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist)