Pageantry and political speech marked the opening of US President Donald Trump’s 36-hour India visit. From roadshows and ‘Namaste Trump’ in Ahmedabad to sunset at the Taj Mahal in Agra, the American President, due to contest for a second term later this year, virtually addressed the Indian diaspora in the US on Monday. Amid massive bonhomie displayed by Trump and Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi during the ‘Namaste Trump’ event at Motera, a $3-billion defence deal, to be signed on Tuesday, was announced.
Trump and Modi heaped praise on each other as the audience watched, at the stadium and on TV sets around the globe.
Trump told the over-100,000 gathering that he looked forward to closer ties with India, especially in defence and space exploration. Calling Modi a “tough negotiator”, Trump said the two would be discussing ways to expand economic ties, besides the “major trade deals”.
“We are in the early stages of discussion for a trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the US and India. I am optimistic that the PM and I can reach a fantastic deal that is good, and even great, for our countries. Except that he is a very tough negotiator,” Trump said, adding that the two nations conducted the first-ever air, land, and sea military exercises called ‘Tiger Triumph’. On his part, Modi — welcoming his “dear friend” — termed Indo-US relations as “natural”.
He said the relations would continue to grow in the digital and Industry 4.0 age.
Even as the US continues to build its military equipment manufacturing muscle, it is looking at India to forge stronger ties in supplies from airplanes, missiles, and rockets to ships, as well as armed and unarmed aerial vehicles.
“As we continue to build our defence cooperation, the US looks forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet... And I am pleased to announce that on Tuesday, our representatives will sign a deal to sell over $3 billion in the absolute, finest, state-of-the-art helicopters and other equipment to the Indian armed forces. I believe the US should be India’s premier defence partner,” said Trump.
Lauding India for Chandrayaan II, Trump said the US was looking forward to “expanding space cooperation with India”.
Islamic terrorism, Pakistan, Bollywood, and cricket also found mention in the nearly half-an-hour speech as Trump looked at hitting the right notes with the massive local crowd. However, contrary to speculation, the proposal for a US Consulate in Gujarat, among others, did not find mention.
Trump also lauded Modi over steps taken towards village electrification, internet connectivity, access to cooking fuel, and basic sanitation. “Incredibly, 12 Indian citizens are lifted out of extreme poverty every single minute of every single day.”
However, with much of the crowd gathered at the Motera stadium being rural, the US President’s English speech could not hold their attention for long.
“First, the speech was in a language we didn’t understand. Second, we have been here since early morning and it was getting hot,” said Megabhai Bharwad, a farmer from Sabarkantha, who had come with his fellow villagers in a bus arranged by the local administration.
Landing first at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport as part of his two-day India trip, Trump — accompanied by First Lady Melania and Modi — visited Sabarmati Ashram and later the world’s largest cricket stadium at Motera, amid a roadshow of over 100,000 people cheering from the sidelines.
Organised by the Donald Trump Abhivadan Samiti comprising prominent citizens and politicians, the Namaste Trump event was tipped to be on the lines of Howdy, Modi! held in Houston last year. However, the largely rural Gujarati crowd that had gathered since early morning in a groundswell of support started thinning out when Trump began his address.