HOUSTON (CN) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump lavishly praised each other Sunday at a “Howdy, Modi” rally in Houston, and Trump tried to win converts in an Indian-American electorate that voted overwhelmingly against him in the 2016 presidential election.
More than 50,000 people, many waving Indian flags, filled NRG Stadium to see Modi. He is in the U.S. for the United Nations General Assembly, which starts Tuesday in New York.
India was the United State’s ninth-largest trading partner in 2018 at $87.5 billion, between No. 8 France and Italy, according to the U.S Census Bureau.
Modi was elected prime minister in 2014 and re-elected in May this year. He gave Trump a glowing introduction.
“When I met him for the first time, he said to me, ‘India has a true friend in the White House,’” Modi said, as Trump stood behind him grinning broadly.
“Your presence here today is great testimony to that. In these years our two nations have taken the relationship to new heights. Mr. President, this morning in Houston you can hear the heartbeat of this great celebration of this great partnership, in this celebration of the world’s two largest democracies. You can feel the strength and depths of human bonds between our two great nations.”
Both men ascended to their country’s highest offices by promising to root out corruption and have connected with their supporters through social media. Modi has 50.3 million Twitter followers to Trump’s 64.6 million.
Though Sunday’s audience was markedly different than the predominantly white voters who flock to see Trump speak at the rallies he’s held regularly across the country since taking office, he used some of his regular material.
He said the unemployment is lower than ever in the U.S. for Mexican, Asian and African Americans. “Over the last two years unemployment rate among Indian Americans dropped by nearly 33%,” Trump said.
He said he and Modi’s similar policies have dramatically improved their countries.
“In a single decade India, with the help of Modi’s pro-growth reforms, India has lifted nearly 300 million people out of poverty and that is an incredible number,” he said.
“In the next decade 140 million Indian households will rise to the middle class. In both India and the U.S. we are seeing something really remarkable. Our people are prospering like never before because we are slashing bureaucracy and cutting job-killing red tape,” he added.
Trump said his own pro-growth reforms have created more than 6 million jobs, with over 750,000 in Texas, before wrapping his speech with his characteristic aplomb.
“The U.S. and India will make our nations stronger, our people wealthier, our dreamers bigger and our future brighter than ever before and it won’t even be close,” he said.
Trump has not done well with Indian Americans. More than 80% of them voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Politico reported, citing a poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Modi followed Trump with a 45-minute speech in Hindi. He seemed oblivious to the thousands of people gathered outside the stadium protesting his human rights record and the Indian government’s lockdown of the Indian state Kashmir.
Under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which became the leading party in 2014, there’s been an increase in Hindu mob killings of Muslims.
In early August, the Indian government sent troops into Kashmir, a state with a 12.55 million residents on the border with Pakistan, blocked internet and cellphone access and imposed a curfew.
Days later, India’s President Ram Nath Kovind revoked’s Kashmir autonomy, which for decades had exempted it from laws passed by the Indian Parliament.
Mona Sahaf, a Justice Department attorney and leader of Americans for Kashmir, said she was in Kashmir visiting her mother when the incursion started in early August.
“Modi’s comments at today’s event ignored the unconscionable crimes he’s committing in Kashmir. I was there when Modi’s crackdown began, and my friends and relatives are unable to work, go to school, visit their doctors, or use their cell phones.
“It’s shameful that the man responsible for all of that suffering was applauded by so many in Houston,” she said in a statement.
The Kashmir region, with its large population of Muslims, was the site of numerous wars between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan in the 20th century as each nation tried to increase its territory.
Pakistan was created in 1947 when India’s leaders agreed to split the country along religious lines after Britain ended its colonial rule.
Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will both address the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27.
Khan has promised to speak out against India’s occupation of Kashmir, “Prime Minister will be the voice of the Kashmiri people at the United Nations,” Pakistan’s UN ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said Sept. 21 on Twitter.