Across Houston, Indian Americans respond to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reelection

Modi won a rare third term, but his party failed to secure a simple majority in parliament.

By Natalie Weber, Houston Public MediaJune 20, 2024 10:00 am, ,

From Houston Public Media:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a rare third term earlier this month.

But his political party, the BJP, lost more than 50 parliamentary seats, failing to achieve a simple majority in parliament.

When Modi came to Houston’s NRG Stadium in 2019, the rally sold out. Dubbed “Howdy Modi,” the event featured cultural performances and speakers, including then-president Donald Trump. About 50,000 people attended, shortly after Modi won his second term.

Across Houston, both Modi supporters and critics anxiously awaited the election results.

This year, Modi’s BJP party set its sights on winning a supermajority in parliament.

But the Hindu nationalist party fell far short of this goal, failing to secure even half of the 543 seats.

Though the BJP won the most seats of any party, they still had to work with allies to form a coalition government.

Ashish Agrawal has lived in the Houston area for about 25 years and is no stranger to politics: he ran for Fort Bend ISD’s school board and has led efforts to encourage Hindus to vote in local elections.

During a recent conversation outside a Sugar Land coffee shop, he said believes the results of the parliamentary elections are nothing out of the ordinary.

“We look at who got the most votes, who got the most seats, and that party is invited to make their government,” he said.

Agrawal said he thinks the government has helped India grow its economy and make the country safer under Modi.

Some other Houston residents agree.

At Desi Brothers Farmers Market in Sugar Land, Ankur Desai packaged neem leaves as he worked at the South Asian grocery store.

Desai is from Gujarat, the state where Modi was raised and began his political career.

Desai said that previously, many did not have electricity but thanks to Modi’s government, they now do.

“The roads, infrastructure are built up,” he said.

Still, Modi has been a controversial figure.

When he visited Houston, about 12,000 people gathered outside the rally to protest his treatment of minorities, in particular Muslim Indians.

In the early 2000s, the U.S. government barred Modi from entering the country.

They said he failed to intervene in riots where Hindus killed more than a thousand people, most of whom were Muslim.

More recently, Modi dedicated a controversial Hindu temple that was built on the site of a razed Muslim mosque. And in a speech in April, he referred to Muslims as “infiltrators.”

Samina Salim has lived in the Houston area for about 25 years. She’s on the board of the Indian American Muslim Council.

She said she was astonished by the election results, which she sees as a rejection of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies.

“It’s true that Mr. Modi has secured a third term, but not with the majority,” she said. “So that is a big blow to this Modi myth that he’s somehow invincible.”

Shakeib Mashhood is the president of the Houston chapter of the Indian American Muslim Council. He said he stayed up until the early morning watching election results roll in.

“I was also very worried and disturbed of the incidents and the hateful speeches that were being made specifically by (the) BJP party, and that was really, really concerning for me,” he said.

Last week, Dhiraj Patil went to an indoor cricket facility in Houston where a handful of men practiced their batting skills.

He said he tracked the election results through the news and WhatsApp conversations with family and friends.

Patil said he thinks the BJP pushes casteism and a “Hindu agenda.” He hopes that the changes in parliament will lead to a more balanced government.

“They’re doing good,” he said. “They just need to stop pushing the agenda that they thought was popular, but apparently it’s not.”

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