On the first official state visit to India, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania were greeted with pageantry, policy, and unmitigated respect from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the people of a nation on the verge of an economic resurgence.
The price tag for the 36-hour extravaganza tallied a cool $14 million as workers planted millions of flowers and hoisted hundreds of billboards featuring Trump along the motorcade way to the first public receiving event in Ahmedabad. One message declared: “Two dynamic personalities, one momentous occasion.”
Holy Sacred Cow!
Could Trump perform well under the pressure of a beef-free whirlwind tour? All signs point to yes, yes he can, and eat a vegetable here and there with a smile on his face.
Modi greeted the man at the airport not with a handshake but a bear hug – and the love fest was set in motion. The first stop was symbolic: the Sabarmati Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi, the founding father of Indian independence, resided from 1917 to 1930.
The most talked about stop, however, was a mimic of a patented Trump-style shindig, an obvious response to Trump’s welcome rally last September in Houston for the prime minister dubbed “Howdy Modi.” The friendly world leader repaid the warm American welcome with an event of his own, “Namaste Trump,” and it blew the lid off previous Trump rally attendance numbers. Held at the world’s largest cricket venue, Sardar Patel Stadium, well more than 110,000 packed the seats to hear from their leader and the gregarious U.S. president.
Making friends with the masses, Trump bestowed glory upon Modi, using such descriptors as “exceptional leader,” and touted India’s successes:
“India will soon be the home of the biggest middle class anywhere in the world. And within less than 10 years, extreme poverty in your country is projected to completely disappear. The potential for India is absolutely incredible.”
And the crowd went wild. Trump did put a bit of policy into his rally speech, declaring, “Every nation has the right to secure and controlled borders. The United States and India are committed to working together to stop terrorists and fight their ideology.”
It was yet another applause line as thousands of Hindu and Muslim attendees cheered the two world leaders.
Policy and Haggling
The fun and fanfare will conclude before the president and Melania fly the 8,000 miles home – Trump and Modi will sequester to negotiate national security concerns and haggle over a trade agreement. Although no deal is expected to be resolved, the president promised he would make “very, very major” trade accords: His goal is to radically reduce U.S. trade deficits, and his weapon of choice is tariffs on steel, aluminum, and medical devices.
Trump admitted Modi is a “tough negotiator” and announced a $3 billion deal to send state-of-the-art military helicopters to India. But the most contentious sticky wicket will test the friendship and trust between the two leaders: Trump is expected to confront Modi about an offer made to mediate the ongoing fracas between India and Pakistan over control of Kashmir, but Modi has remained adamant about refusing any such outside assistance.
This and That
The Trumps visited Taj Mahal and took advantage of photo ops in front of the grand palace with other travelers, including First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. The prime minister graced the Trumps with a few traditional gifts – one in particular that the U.S. president may want to display in the Oval Office: a marble statue of three monkeys making the “speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil” gestures. This should come in handy when the opposition comes to call.
Read more from Sarah Cowgill.