Trump’s participation in the “Howdy Modi” rally that will be held in Houston on 22 September during the Indian leader’s nearly week-long trip to the US and represent the largest political gathering ever for a foreign head of state will make a mockery out of democracy by exposing the fact that so-called “American values” are readily sacrificed on the altar of “containing” China and clinching multibillion-dollar trade deals.
The upcoming “Howdy, Modi” rally will see approximately 50,000 Indian-Americans gather to welcome their ancestral homeland’s leader to the US in what represents the largest political gathering ever for a foreign head of state, though one that’s certainly not without controversy considering the context in which it’s occurring and the planned large-scale protests that it’s provoking. India’s “Israeli”-like moves in Kashmir last month saw it unilaterally annexing the disputed territory after which it cut off all communications there, blocked the region to both journalists and opposition politicians alike, and began carrying out crimes against the local population along the lines of which it committed against the Sikhs in Indian Punjab during the 1984 “Operation Woodrose“. Although some American officials have raised concerns about what India is doing, the US government itself has yet to sanction it for undermining human rights and democracy like the authorities would otherwise do if the country in question wasn’t a pivotal ally, which is why the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) have teamed up with the Kashmiris to organize massive protests in order to draw attention to this blatant hypocrisy.
The biggest “elephant in the room” is the fact that Modi used to previously be banned from the US for his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat Massacre of local Muslims during his time as the Chief Minister there, which lasted up until after he won the premiership in 2014. The Obama Administration obviously made an exception for him since he became the head of state of what the US and India like to deceptively describe as the so-called “world’s largest democracy”, which Washington strategists envisage using to “contain” China in the New Cold War via what the Trump Administration has since described as its “Indo-Pacific” policy that could eventually include an economic component through multibillion-dollar trade deals and incentives to re-offshore American factories from China to India. This policy is grounded in realpolitik and makes sense from that perspective, though it also inadvertently contradicts the notion that the US places “American values” at the forefront of its policymaking formulations and therefore undermines the previous sacrifices that its soldiers have made in the name of human rights and democracy. In other words, the normative basis (however initially flawed and sometimes outright fabricated) on which the US usually wages war has just been discredited by none other than its own leaders.
This is where Trump’s planned participation in the rally comes into play since his base supports the slogan of “America First”, which has a very strong values component to it, but that vision is actually being discredited by his actions. Modi has the right to visit the UN and travel throughout the US as a foreign head of state per international law, but Trump doesn’t have to attend his guest’s political events. He’s doing that out of a show of solidarity with the US’ main regional ally for “containing” China and also in a bid to win the increasingly influential Indian-American vote during next year’s elections, both of which have nothing to do with American values per se, or at least how they’re popularly understood in the context of “America First”. Instead, “America First” is being evoked to refer to the US’ foreign policy goals, which in this case necessitate the sacrificing of American values like democracy and human rights (even if the said values were only supported abroad in more of a rhetorical and politically motivated sense than in their pure form). Modi’s Texas trip will therefore make a mockery out of American democracy, and Trump’s wittingly or unwittingly helping this happen.
By Andrew Korybko