HOUSTON, Texas—The morning twilight was still shifting to daylight as throngs of Indians and Indian Americans assembled in a giant parking lot in Sugar Land, Texas, yesterday. A line of 14 buses was waiting to charter them free of charge to Houston’s NRG Stadium, where they would soon catch sight of both Narendra Modi and Donald Trump at “Howdy, Modi!,” the Indian prime minister’s latest address to his supporters in the United States.
They’d adorned their bodies in the name of both ancestry and functionality. The spectrum of colors that spanned their saris and kurtas was an homage to their homeland, while others wore jackets despite Houston’s humidity. The latter was a design choice, because no bags would be allowed in the stadium. Once they hit Houston, they’d have to line up for a security check with 50,000 others like themselves.
Inside the back of bus No. 4, the Houston physician Meena Murti accepted some apple slices from her father as she explained to me that her parents had retired to Sugar Land, with its strong Indian-diaspora network, just about five years ago. She said she’d rather stay out of politics, but was nevertheless excited to see Trump and Modi side by side. “I think a lot of polarization occurs because of mob psychology,” she told me, speaking specifically about American politics these days. But her observation could very well apply to Indian politics too: In both countries, divisive nationalist leaders are promoting majoritarian politics and spinning the truth to appeal to their base voters, while competing media narratives are weaponized against each other in a battle for dominance.
This piece originally published on September 23, 2019. Read the rest of my piece for The Atlantic here.