Trump Given Rousing Welcome in India

Trump Given Rousing Welcome in India

President Trump was on a state visit to India on February 24 and 25 at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump.

Trump’s two-day visit was designed to partially tickle his vanity, but, as importantly, it was to boost his chances of returning to office in the 2020 US general election, trying to gain the support both politically and finically among the affluent Indian American community.

He visited three cities in India: the national capital, Delhi; Agra, where he saw the Taj Mahal; and Ahmedabad, the main city in the western state of Gujarat, where he addressed an audience of more than 100,000 people in an event aptly called “Namaste Trump”.

President Trump and first lady Melania visited the Taj Mahal Monday, hours after the U.S. leader gave a rousing speech to more than 110,000 at a cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, India.

The president and first lady strolled around the grounds of India’s most famous attraction, taking in the sights. It was a rare occasion of the president visiting a cultural site on an international visit.

Trump, who once owned the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. and foreclosed the same after declaring bankruptcy, had never visited the Indian site until now. The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were also on hand, taking photos in front of the building.

The first day of the visit was all about optics – tens of thousands, if not ten million, lined up the streets to greet him on his way from the Ahmedabad airport to the Motera cricket stadium in Gujarat, the home state of Modi.

Trump Given Rousing Welcome in IndiaAt the stadium, he addressed more than 100,000 people. He evoked Bollywood, cricket and saints – good enough topics to get Indians interested. The rally, titled “Namaste Trump,” was a sequel to the “Howdy, Modi” event Trump held with prime minister Narendra Modi in Houston last September.

Mentioning Pakistan and Kashmir is a line foreign leaders try not to cross when visiting India – but Trump did. He said he had excellent relations with Pakistani PM Imran Khan and once again offered to mediate in the Kashmir issue.

Trump’s motorcade passed seemingly endless crowds in Ahmedabad with many cheering and waving American flags on the way to the 110,000 capacity Sardar Patel Stadium where the rally was conducted. Large billboards were spread throughout the route showing Modi alongside Trump and his wife Melania.

When Modi handed the podium to Trump, the president thanked those in attendance for the welcome he received, adding that he and Melania would remember the hospitality given.

Mentioning Pakistan and Kashmir is a line foreign leaders try not to cross when visiting India – but Trump did. He said he had excellent relations with Pakistani PM Imran Khan and once again offered to mediate in the Kashmir issue.

Trump was in India this week visiting a nation that is increasingly subsumed by Hindu nationalist fervor. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now a Trump ally, has been linked with the movement since he was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat.

Modi is accused of attempting to establish a Hindu-dominated society there, where Muslims would effectively be second-class citizens, and of complicity in a 2002 riot that reportedly led to the deaths of 1,000 Muslims. Since he was elected prime minister in 2014, the movement has spread nationally.

Modi is now pushing a citizenship law that specifically discriminates against Muslims. India’s status as the world’s largest secular democracy is very much in the balance.

As President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat down to a dinner on Tuesday of cajun-spiced salmon, mutton biryani, marinated leg of lamb and hazelnut apple pie, protesters took to the streets to voice dissent against the proposed citizenship law—and were greeted by police and Hindu counter-protesters.

New Delhi became a battlefield for the worst communal violence the city has seen in decades, and there was a dissonant and surreal spectacle of toasts and chumminess unfolding at the regal Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace, where Trump was being hosted.

“America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump said. He announced that he will sell $3 billion worth of state of art helicopters and other equipment to the country.

Trump also refused to comment on the ongoing protests and religious intolerance. In fact, he went a step further than expected. He praised Modi’s efforts in giving religious freedom to every community in India. Trump insisted that Modi, who hosted the U.S. president at a huge rally in India on Monday, “wants people to have religious freedom.”

“The prime minister was incredible in what he told me. He wants people to have religious freedom and very strongly,” Trump told reporters at a press conference toward the end of his two-day trip to India.

“He said that, in India, they have worked very hard to have great and open religious freedom. And if you look back and you look at what’s going on, relative to other places especially, but they have really worked hard on religious freedom,” Trump added.

Just as when White nationalist shot and killed dozens in a Black majority Church, and Trump failed to condemn such violence, it was not unusual for him to condemn the violence in India, during his visit.

The strength of secular democracies, like the United States and India, is that they theoretically grant the full rights of citizenship to anyone who subscribes to ideas about human life and flourishing that transcend religious and ethnic divides. But in this age of extreme inequality and growing tribalism, we are beginning to lose our grip on the American—and, perhaps, the Indian—Idea. As Orwell told us, this descent into unreason is at the core of nationalist fervor.

But these visits are not just about theatrics and atmospherics. They are also about forcing a change in American leaders’ general approach to India.

Trump wanted to show people in the US that he was hugely popular abroad and that he was capable of negotiating good deals out of a country he once described as the “king of tariffs”.

On the other hand, the Indian PM desperately needed some good headlines after being under the spotlight due to his controversial decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy and the ongoing protests against his new citizenship law. In the end, both leaders had their wishes fulfilled despite not achieving much that would benefit either country and the peoples of these two great nations.

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