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‘Namaste Trump:’ India’s Modi welcomes U.S. president with pomp and pageantry as trade tensions simmer

Donald Trump got a red-carpet welcome after Air Force One touched down Monday in Ahmedabad, India, kicking off a two-day visit to the country that’s as much about spectacle as substance.

Hundreds of performing artists crowded the Ahmedabad airport as Trump’s plane landed. He was greeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as drummers and dancers carrying colorful cloth umbrellas performed on the tarmac.

The scene opened a day that will be packed with pageantry for the American president, who’s made no secret of his predilection for large crowds and impressive displays.

Modi is hoping the welcome in his home state of Gujarat will further solidify his friendship with Trump and strengthen bonds with the U.S. that have frayed over trade disputes.

From the airport, Trump’s motorcade is expected to wind through 22 kilometers (13.7 miles) of roads to a new, 110,000-seat cricket stadium where both leaders will speak at an event billed as “Namaste Trump.” Modi and Trump appeared at a similar event — dubbed “Howdy, Modi!” — last year in Houston.

Numbers Game

Trump has repeatedly boasted about the crowds he anticipates for the India roadshow. “I hear they’re going to have 10 million people. They say anywhere from six to 10 million people are going to be showing up along the route to one of the largest stadiums in the world, the largest cricket stadium in the world,” Trump told a campaign rally audience in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last week.

On Sunday, as he departed the White House, he told reporters that “millions and millions of people” would attend the event.

“Some people say the biggest event they’ve ever had in India,” Trump said. “That’s what the prime minister told me; this will be the biggest event they’ve ever had.”

Indian officials estimated the crowd size would be closer to 100,000 — the entire population of Ahmedabad was 5.6 million as of a 2011 census — but still anticipated an impressive showing for the U.S. leader.

US President Donald Trump (R) and First Lady Melania Trump leave after attending 'Namaste Trump' rally at Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, on February 24, 2020. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump leave after attending a ‘Namaste Trump’ rally at Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, on Feb. 24, 2020.
MANDEL NGAN—AFP via Getty Images

Workers in the city have been furiously resurfacing streets and repainting overpasses in anticipation of Trump’s visit, and a 200-yard wall was erected to block the views of a slum near the airport. Billboards along the route feature images of the two leaders emblazoned with slogans promoting the visit.

Investment Hopes

Nimesh Barot, associate vice-president at Tata Consultancy Services, said excitement was building across the city.

“There are lots of Gujaratis in the U.S,” Barot, 47, said in Gujarat’s largest city. “They don’t mind the disturbance that this program will cause on a Monday — route diversions, schools and colleges have been closed — because President Trump’s visit will bring the world’s focus on Ahmedabad.”

Baro is part of the BAPS Swaminarayan religious sect that is popular among most Gujarati-speaking Hindu Indian Americans. The sect, which runs 140 temples across the U.S., is building a huge temple spread over 200 acres in Robinsville, New Jersey.

Between the airport and stadium, Trump is expected to visit the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati, a residence of Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian independence movement.

Gandhi lived for years in a modest cottage at the site, famously departing in 1930 to lead the 24-day Dandi March in protest of the British monopoly on salt. The demonstration focused attention worldwide on the Indian resistance and Gandhi’s nonviolent protest tactics, and was seen as a catalyst for attaining the country’s independence from the British Raj.

The flag-waving and cheering crowds on the streets were equaled by the scene at Sardar Patel Stadium, which will be the world’s largest cricket facility once a $100 million renovation is completed.

“We know that this is a political visit for Trump,” said Hakim Patel, 52, who sells electrical products. “He is trying to impress the rich Gujaratis and Indians in the U.S. by coming to Ahmedabad. Ordinary people like us can only hope that Trump will help India by investing here.”

Foreign Tours

The Indian prime minister has sought to leverage foreign leader tours into increased international visibility for Ahmedabad. He hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there before Trump. Modi’s hope is to offer an alternative vision to the city’s association with deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002 which occurred while he was the state’s chief minister.

Following the rally at the cricket stadium, Trump will return to the airport and fly to Agra, where he’s planning to visit the iconic Taj Mahal. The U.S. president once owned a casino in Atlantic City whose design referenced the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Officials in Agra have also been busy ahead of Trump’s visit, with workers cleaning walls and fountains at the monument. Last week, the government released millions of liters of additional water from the canal network that feeds the Yamuna River in an effort to mask pollution that plagues water in the city.

A tougher problem might be the pervasive monkey population that roams the grounds of the nearly four-century-old mausoleum, which along with other stray animals have occasionally attacked tourists at the complex. Security officials have been armed with hand-held slingshots to ward off monkeys, India Today reported.

Trump will then depart for Delhi, where he’ll spend the night before a series of meetings with government officials and business leaders on Tuesday. He’s expected to conclude his trip that evening with a dinner at the presidential palace.

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