Modi & Trump Praise One Another in India

AHMEDABAD, India (AP) ā€” Basking before 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 trio of presidential photo-ops, and was sandwiched between Trump’s visits to a former home of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and a planned tour of the 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.

Indians protest the visit of President Trump in Gauhati on Monday. Experts say very little of substance will be achieved beyond the pageantry. (AP photo/Anupam Nath)

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 welcomed to India.

Embarking on a 36-hour visit, Trump opened his speech in Ahmedabad by saying 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 ā€” literally ā€” from the ideologically aligned Modi.

The sunbaked city of Ahmedabad bustled as Trump arrived, its streets teeming with people. 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 10 million that Trump said would be on hand.

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 more boisterous setting: the 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 14-mile stretch of road on the way to the new stadium. Tens of thousands of police officers were on hand to keep security tight and a new wall was erected in front of a slum, to hide it from presidential passersby.

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 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’s foreign visits typically are light on sightseeing, but he and the first lady were to visit the Taj Mahal, the immense white marble mausoleum built in Agra in the 17th century. Stories in local media warn of the monkeys that inhabit the landmark pestering tourists for food and, on occasion, menacing visitors and slingshot-carrying security guards.

The visit comes at a crucial moment for Modi, a fellow right-wing populist, who has presided 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 dotted with half-finished construction projects stalled due to disappearing funding.

Trump 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 U.S. military equipment.

But trade tensions between the two countries have escalated since the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from India. India responded with higher tariffs on agricultural goods and restrictions on U.S. medical devices. The United States retaliated by removing India from a decades-old preferential trade program.

Eyes will 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 immigrants 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 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.

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