India Pours on Pagentry for Trump 02/24 06:21
Basking in adulation from a massive, colorful crowd, President Donald Trump
and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi lavished each other with praise Monday
in a reaffirmation of U.S.-India ties as the subcontinent poured on the
pageantry in a joyful welcome for the U.S. president.
AHMEDABAD, INDIA (AP) -- Basking in adulation from a massive, colorful
crowd, President Donald Trump and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi lavished
each other with praise Monday in a reaffirmation of U.S.-India ties as the
subcontinent poured on the pageantry in a joyful welcome for the U.S. president.
More than 100,000 people packed the world's largest cricket stadium in
Modi's home state to give Trump the biggest rally crowd of his political
career. The event was the pinnacle of the day's enviable trio of presidential
photo-ops, and was sandwiched between Trump's visits to a former home of
independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and a tour of the famed Taj Mahal.
Nearly everyone in the newly constructed stadium in Ahmedabad in western
India sported a white cap with the name of the event, "Namaste, Trump" or
"Welcome, Trump," and roared for the introductions of both leaders.
But miles away in the capital of New Delhi, Indian police used tear gas and
smoke grenades to disperse a crowd of clashing protesters hours before Trump
was due to arrive, as violence broke out over a new citizenship law that
excludes Muslims. Anti-Trump street demonstrations also erupted in Delhi,
Kolkata, Hyderabad and Gauhati, but not in the city where Trump was hosted.
Embarking on a whirlwind 36-hour visit, Trump opened his speech in Ahmedabad
by declaring that he had traveled 8,000 miles to deliver the message that
"America loves India, America respects India and America will always be
faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people."
The boisterous scene featured musicians on camels and a musical medley of
Bollywood hits and Trump's campaign rally playlist, including numerous Elton
John songs that seemed to puzzle most of the crowd. Trump basked in the raucous
reception that has eluded him on many foreign trips, some of which have
featured massive protests and icy handshakes from world leaders. In India, he
instead received a warm embrace --- literally --- from the ideologically
aligned and noted hugger Modi.
The sun-baked city of Ahmedabad bustled as Trump arrived, its streets
teeming with people eager to catch a glimpse of the American president. Newly
cleaned roads and planted flowers dotted the roads amid hundreds of billboards
featuring the president and first lady Melania Trump. Thousands lined his
motorcade route, shy of the up to 10 million that Trump speculated would be on
His first stop was Gandhi's home, where Trump donned a prayer shawl and
removed his shoes to create the incongruous image of a grandiose president
quietly walking through the humble ashram. He inspected the spinning wheel used
by the famed pacifist and looked at a statue of monkeys representing Gandhi's
mantra of "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil" before departing for a far
more boisterous setting: the mega-rally at the world's largest cricket stadium.
Trump's motorcade traveled amid cheers from a battery of carefully picked
and vetted Modi loyalists and workers from his Bharatiya Janata Party who stood
for hours alongside the neatly manicured 22-kilometer (14-mile) stretch of road
to accord the president a grand welcome on his way to the newly constructed
stadium. Tens of thousands of police officers were on hand to keep security
tight and a new wall has come up in front of a slum, apparently to hide it from
On the way to the stadium, Trump's motorcade crossed a river where a barge
was emblazoned with "TRUMP" and onlookers chanted "Modi!" The stadium was
packed with revelers, many of whom sported Trump and Modi masks, as they sat in
80-degree heat. Scores of attendees, particularly those sitting in the sun,
streamed out before Trump finished his 27-minute speech.
The "Namaste Trump" rally was, in a way, the back half of home-and-home
events for Modi and Trump, who attended a "Howdy Modi" rally in Houston last
year that drew 50,000 people. Trump lavished praise on both Modi and the
democracy he leads, touting an effort to lift residents out of extreme poverty,
saying "India gives hope to all of humanity."
Trump, whose foreign visits typically are light on sightseeing, told
reporters traveling with him that the stadium event was "fantastic." He said he
looked forward to his first visit to the Taj Mahal, the immense white marble
17th century mausoleum on the bank of a river in the city of Agra.
"I hear it's incredible," Trump said of the Taj Mahal. "I think it's going
to be amazing."
Stories in local media warn of the monkeys that inhabit the landmark and
pester tourists for food and, on occasion, menace both visitors and
slingshot-carrying security guards.
Images of American presidents being feted on the world stage stand in
contrast to those of their rivals in the opposing party slogging through diners
in early-voting states and clashing in debate. This trip, in particular,
reflects a Trump campaign strategy to showcase him in his presidential role
during short, carefully managed trips that provide counter-programming to the
Democrats' primary contest and produce the kinds of visuals his campaign can
use in future ads. His aides also believe the visit could help the president
woo tens of thousands of Indian-American voters before the November election.
The visit also comes at a crucial moment for Modi, a fellow populist, who
has provided over a steep economic downturn and unfulfilled campaign promises
about job creation. When Trump touches down in Delhi later Monday, he will find
a bustling, noisy, colorful capital that also is dotted with half-finished
construction projects stalled due to disappearing funding.
The president will conclude his whirlwind visit to India on Tuesday in the
capital, including meetings with Modi over stalled trade talks and a gala
dinner. The two nations are closely allied, in part to act as a bulwark against
the rising influence of China. Trump announced at the stadium that India would
soon buy $3 billion of American military equipment.
But trade tensions between the two countries have escalated since the Trump
administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium from India. India
responded with higher penalties on agricultural goods and restrictions on U.S.
medical devices. The U.S. retaliated by removing India from a decades-old
preferential trade program.
Trump voiced optimism that a deal could be reached but also lightheartedly
told the rally crowd about Modi: "Everybody loves him, but I will tell you
this. He's very tough."
Eyes will also be on whether Trump weighs in on the protests enveloping
India over a new citizenship law that provides a fast track to naturalization
for some migrants who entered the country illegally while fleeing religious
persecution, but excludes Muslims, raising fears that the country is moving
toward a religious citizenship test. Passage has prompted large-scale protests
and a violent crackdown.
Trump has refrained from publicly rebuking world leaders for human rights
abuses during his overseas trips. He made no specific mention of the
citizenship debate during the rally, but included passing references to
religious tolerance for all faiths, including Islam. He also specifically
referred to the United States' success combating "radical Islamic terrorism,"
particularly originating from India's longtime rival, Pakistan.