Pulling crowds: Narendra Modi at the Madison Square Garden event. A larger participation is expected in Houston.

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Pulling crowds: Narendra Modi at the Madison Square Garden event. A larger participation is expected in Houston.

35 lawmakers, senators and Congressmen confirm participation

U.S. lawmaker and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard confirmed on Wednesday that she will not attend the Howdy Modi event in Houston this Sunday, but hopes to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his week-long stay in New York.

Denying a report that Ms. Gabbard had decided to pull out of the event over concerns about the government’s actions in Kashmir, she said in a tweet that she cancelled her appearance in Houston over “scheduled presidential campaign events.”

“However I’m hoping to meet PM Modi on his visit to discuss the importance of maintaining the strong partnership of the world’s oldest & largest democracies,” she wrote. Others suggested that Ms. Gabbard’s decision to pull out may have followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to join Mr. Modi at the rally for Indian-Americans, and that other Democratic Party members may have reservations about appearing with Mr. Trump. “We are expecting many more Republican lawmakers to join the event now due to the U.S. President’s appearance, and we hope others in the opposition will also attend to show the bipartisan support for ties with India,” said an official involved in the arrangements.

Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Harshvardhan Shringla is flying to Houston on Wednesday, and expected to oversee the final planning, and changes needed in the schedule because of Mr. Trump’s appearance at the rally. According to those privy to the decision, Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi had first discussed the Houston rally during a telephone conversation on August 19, and then decided on the joint appearance when they met in France later in the month, but organisers had only been sounded out about this a week ahead of the White House announcement.

According to the officials, about 35 lawmakers, Senators and Congressmen have confirmed attendance thus far, and many more confirmations are expected in the next few days. The event on Sunday at Houston’s NRG stadium, with over 50,000 people registered to attend, will begin with cultural performances and the screening of a film about the experiences of the diaspora around 9 am.

At the start, PM Modi will be joined by Democratic Senator Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who will address the Indian-American community. Mr. Trump is expected to arrive around 11 a.m. and both leaders will be on stage together, after which the U.S. President will speak for about 20 minutes. Mr. Modi will speak as well, although his speech is expected to last about 35-40 minutes. Organisers said the details are still being worked out, but a plan by PM Modi to drive around the stadium as he did at the event in San Jose in 2015 may be dropped, given U.S. Secret Service concerns with the American President’s participation. Details for the event are still be reworked, explained the officials, given that there are three parties to each decision now: the Texas India forum that is making arrangements, Indian protocol and U.S. protocol.

While Mr. Trump is expected to focus broadly on bilateral ties, an expected breakthrough in trade disputes, and the role of the Indian-American community, his possible comments on India and Pakistan are giving organisers some cause for worry. While Mr. Trump has abandoned reference to “mediating” between India and Pakistan in recent weeks, he made another statement on Tuesday suggesting that he will be meeting both PM Modi and Pakistani PM Imran Khan in the next week, indicating he still hasn’t given up the idea of pushing the two leaders on resolving issues.

Another worry about protesters backed by Kashmiri separatist, Khalistani activists and Pakistani groups who plan to picket outside the NRG stadium venue has now been averted, the organisers say, given the extra security expected for the U.S. President. However, several groups including “Friends of Kashmir”, “Sikhs for Justice” and “International Humanitarian Foundation” have reportedly hired buses and trucks and plan to drive around close to the venue, and are offering “tickets” for the protest on an online events management website.

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