– Avatans Kumar
Just a day or two before the mega ‘Howdy! Modi’ event in Houston, there were fears about bad weather. Houston, still recovering from the wrath of hurricane Harvey, was hit by a tropical storm and several parts of Texas including Houston saw some flooding. Some vested interests tried to take advantage of it flooding the social media feeds painting a gloomy picture of travel conditions casting a cloud of doubts over the event.
But those fears soon dissipated as the Modi enthusiasts countered those claims with posting weather forecast. And when PM Modi arrived in Houston, there was plenty of sunshine. It remained that way until late in the evening when parts of greater Houston metro area saw some rain showers. Even during his speech, PM Modi mentioned ‘Houston Strong’ a phrase that became the slogan for Houstonians during rebuilding after hurricane Harvey.
The night before the main event, there were several mini ‘Howdy! Modi’ events going on throughout Houston. People had gathered at many bars, restaurants, clubs and other places as a group. The Overseas Friends of BJP had organized one such gathering. Food, drinks, and laughter were flowing freely. There was a lot of excitement. Hotels (many owned by NRIs themselves) did some brisk business.
The approach road to the stadium was backed up with traffic for about a mile by 6am. This reporter got off his Uber ride and walked to the stadium to save time. Security was extremely tight. There were multiple security points. There was a live band playing music right outside the main entrance.
NRG Stadium is the home of the National Football League (NFL) team Houston Texans. It was the site of the NFT Super Bowl 2017. It has a maximum capacity of 72,220 people. One of the end zones was turned into a makeshift main stage. By the time the main event started, there were more than 50,000 people inside the stadium and it was full of people from wall-to-wall.
Hallways and the tunnels of the stadium had several life-size cutouts of PM Modi. There were also banners of the states of the Union of India. People were seen taking pictures and selfies next to the cutouts and banners. The concession stands were serving samosas and chai as well.
There were some restless moments (about 20 minutes) between the cultural show and the speeches as people waited for President Trump to arrive. Two of the loudest applause, one each for President Trump and PM Modi, were when President Trump mentioned fighting ‘radical Islamic terror’ and second when PM Modi talked about ‘farewell’ to Article 370. Jammu and Kashmiri people were in full force there, many in their traditional garb.
Judging by the applause, it seems Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the other popular politician in the stadium besides PM Modi and President Trump. Other than the Mayor of Houston who handed over the keys of the City of Houston to PM Modi, there were several national and state level elected representatives in the audience. They could be seen sitting in the front row. Earlier, they were all introduced and greeted on the stage by PM Modi.
Volunteers and ushers were the most courteous standing all over the stadium with folded hands. Many, both men and women, were dressed in their traditional attire and always greeted with a warm ‘namaste’.
Howdy! Modi had a field day on social media. It was trending at number one for several hours in the US.
Besides those 50,000 in audience inside the stadium, there were several dozens who were mobilized for a counter protest outside the stadium. Several Islamist & Khalistani proxies of Pakistan and some radical leftists groups had organized protest. These volunteers shouted counter slogans in support of India and PM Modi. Pakistani protestors left several piles of garbage and litter along the streets approaching the stadium.