You are here: Home » Current Affairs » News » National
Business Standard

Namaste, Trump? A timeline of US Presidents' India visits since Eisenhower

Donald Trump's visit is the seventh by a US President coming on an official trip to India

Surbhi Gloria Singh  |  New Delhi 

US Presidents

will arrive in India on February 24 on his first official visit to the country. In the run-up, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in a tweet that “India will accord a memorable welcome to our esteemed guests”.

The President of the US (POTUS) and First Lady of the US (FLOTUS) Melania Trump will tour Modi's home state of Gujarat, where they will address an event at Motera stadium. The event, called ‘Namaste, Trump’, will be along the lines of the ‘Howdy, Modi’ event organised last year in Houston in the Indian PM’s honour.

Ahead of Trump's maiden visit, Business Standard travels down memory lane and recalls the India visits of previous POTUSes:

Dwight Eisenhower, 1959

President Eisenhower

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru receiving Dwight D Eisenhower at Parliament House, before the President addressed a joint session of Parliament: US Embassy in India

Over 60 years ago, Dwight Eisenhower came to India on official visit from December 9 to 14, 1959. Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister of India then. A landmark event for India-US relations, it also marked the first ever visit of a POTUS to India. After President Eisenhower received an extravagant reception, with a 21-gun salute at the New Delhi airport, America's Time magazine reported: "India is perhaps more responsive to the US ideas now than it was at any time in its 11 years of independence".

President Eisenhower

A visit to the Taj Mahal proved to be an inspiration for President Eisenhower and daughter-in-law Barbara during a tour conducted by Prime Minister Nehru. (December 13, 1959) Photo: US Embassy in India

Besides delivering a public speech at Delhi’s Ramlila ground, Eisenhower addressed members of both Houses of Parliament. During his four-day visit to the country, Eisenhower also went to his “dream place”, the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Richard M Nixon, 1969

Richard Nixon

US President Richard Nixon with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Rashtrapati Palace in New Delhi, July 31, 1969. Photo: White House

President Nixon's India visit was nothing like Eisenhower's. He spent less than a day in the country and reports suggest that his trip was meant to reduce tensions and distrust between him and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. However, less than two years later, Nixon sided with Pakistan at the time of the 1971 Bangladesh War. According to tapes declassified by the US State Department, Nixon reportedly told the White House that Indians were “slippery, treacherous people”. His assistant for security affairs, Henry Kissinger, was also reported to have used derogatory words for Indians in general.

Nixon's India visit, part of his Asian tour, was all of 22 hours, which he spent in the capital New Delhi.

Jimmy Carter, 1978

Nine years later, President Jimmy Carter came to India in January 1978, about three months after Janata Party's Morarji Desai succeeded Indira Gandhi as the country’s prime minister. During his three-day visit, Carter addressed India's Parliament along with his mother and held several meetings with Indian politicians. The Carters visited a village near Delhi and gifted it a television set. His visit was meant to break the ice between India and the US, especially against the backdrop of the 1971 Bangladesh War and India's nuclear test of 1974. But, the planned failed. India-US relationship further soured after Carter urged India to put an end to its nuclear ambitions. He called for India to sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, much to the annoyance of the Desai-led government.

Jimmy Carter

US President Jimmy Carter is accompanied to his plane by the President Sanjiva Reddy, Prime Minister Morarji Desai and the Minister of External Affairs A B Vajpayee. (New Delhi, January 3, 1978) Photo: US Embassy in India

The period between the '80s and '90s

During the 1980s, there was little buzz around India-US ties. But in the 1990s — after the Indian economy was liberalised, the ties between New Delhi and Washington DC began to improve. The US eventually became India's largest trading partner.

Jimmy Carter

Rosalynn Carter wears a shawl presented to her by the villagers in Daulatpur Nasirabad (now known as Carterpuri in honour of their visit) as President Carter smiles approvingly. Photo: US Embassy in India

Bill Clinton, 2000

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton's trip signified the beginning of closer US-India strategic and economic ties.

It was after a gap of almost two decades that a US President was visiting India. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the country’s prime minister. US President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea stayed in India for five days and visited several popular tourist destinations like Agra, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Mumbai, besides Delhi. His trip signified the beginning of closer US-India strategic and economic ties. His intervention in the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan was welcomed by PM Vajpayee, and he was greeted like a star by politicians and common citizens alike, even by lawmakers in Parliament. Clinton’s successors Presidents and would continue Clinton’s embrace of India in the years to come.

George W Bush, 2006

George W Bush

US President and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh exchange handshakes Thursday, March 2, 2006, after their press availability at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi. Photo: White House

and First Lady Laura Bush visited India six years after Clinton. This visit, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s first term in office, was the second-shortest by a US President, next only to Nixon's 23-hour stopover. The Left parties were against Bush's address in Parliament, so he delivered a speech before a select audience at Delhi’s Purana Qila.

PM Singh and Bush finalised the framework of the nuclear deal, which allowed India to pursue nuclear commerce.

Barack Obama, 2010 and 2015

Barack Obama

President and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chat during the State Dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, in New Dehli, India, Nov. 8, 2010. Photo: White House

During his first visit to India in 2010, Obama pressed all the right buttons. His statements on a bilateral relationship, anti-terrorism measures and business opportunities struck the right chords. His announcement on the lifting of export controls on high-technology equipment exports — and the removal of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Bharat Dynamics from “entities list” that barred trade between US companies and these institutions — was much appreciated. These steps were seen as laying the foundation for a real defence and strategic cooperation between Indian and American companies. According to experts, Obama embraced the Clinton-Vajpayee-Bush-Singh doctrine during his maiden visit to India. Obama reportedly established a rapport with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In January 2015, Obama again visited India along with First Lady Michelle, this time under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi. He became the first US president to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade. Obama committed $4 billion in financial backing to release the “untapped potential” of a partnership between the world’s largest democracies. However, before taking off, Obama warned India not to stray from its constitutional commitment and allow its citizens to freely “profess and practise” religion. This was his only public appearance of the visit without Modi by his side. This was believed to have ruffled some feathers on the ruling party.

On the whole, his visit was significant in that it was the first occasion of a US president visiting India a second time during his presidency, signalling India had become crucial in the US’ scheme of things.

Former US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during their visit to India in 2015 as Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade.

Former US President and First Lady Michelle Obama during their visit to India in 2015 as Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade.

First Published: Fri, February 14 2020. 13:58 IST