Sunday’s “Howdy, Modi” event in Houston, Texas, was remarkable because of the the rare sight of two leaders of large countries appearing together at a rally in which both delivered extremely political speeches. Considering that the United States is heading into an election year and India has just wrapped up one, the presence of both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump on the same stage was extremely significant.
But then Modi went and said: “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar.” The phrase means. “This time it’s the turn of the Trump administration.” It is an alteration of the slogan the Bharatiya Janata Party used ahead of the general elections in 2014, ‘Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar.’
Modi’s use of the phrase, as he was introducing Trump to the 50,000-strong audience, has raised some eyebrows. News organisations have taken it as an endorsement of an American candidate in an election year, with the Indian Express saying Modi “backs US President for second term at White House.”
The Congress, meanwhile, has drawn attention to the impropriety of an Indian prime minister campaigning for an American politician.
But did Modi actually endorse Trump for re-election?
From a purely technical standpoint, one could argue that he did not exactly do that. Here are his exact words: “Friends, we in India have connected well with President Trump, the words of candidate Trump, ‘Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar.’”
One could argue that Modi was simply referring to Trump’s candidacy back in 2016, when, in an ad aimed at the Indian-American population, used the same words.
But of course, this would only be part of the answer.
Though Modi might be able to point to the technicality – that he was just referring to Trump’s older comments – it is hard not to see the entire event, and the speeches as tacit backing for the US politician’s next run. After all, members of both the Modi and Trump teams would have coordinated and discussed what either leader is going to say, so both would have been aware that the leaders were planning to give straightforward political speeches.
This wasn’t a foreign policy focused event or one dominated by the Indian-American relationship. While both leaders nodded to the connections between the two countries, the bulk of their speeches was focused on their own individual achievements and their electoral popularity.
So it would be hard to see Modi’s role and his invocation of the “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar” line as anything other than an endorsement of the American president for another term in office.
While the line got huge support from the audience, others have questioned the Indian leader’s willingness to support an American president who has complained about India’s trade policies, made it harder for Indians and their spouses to work in the country on visas and has encouraged white supremacists like no other politician in recent times.
Meanwhile, Trump’s opponents in the Democratic party also took issue with the bonhomie with Modi, with presidential contender Bernie Sanders asking about the deafening silence on the “human rights crisis” in Kashmir.