Look forward to being with people of India, going to be exciting: Donald Trump

Parimal A Dabhi, Shubhajit Roy
US President Trump on India visit: ‘Look forward to being with people of india, going to be exciting’

President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Sunday. (Photo: AP)

Hundreds of billboards hailing “strong leaders”, “two dynamic personalities”, “great democracies”; decorations depicting events in the life of Mahatma Gandhi; traditional artistes from across the country; 28 stages representing different states along a journey labelled India Road Show; a security contingent including 15 bomb detection squads; and, the Namaste Trump event.

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The government is pulling no stops in rolling out the red carpet for Donald Trump who lands in Ahmedabad at 11.40 am Monday for what officials have described as “the first standalone visit by a US President to India”.

Setting the stage for the two-day visit, which will cover the Taj Mahal in Agra and bilateral talks in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted Sunday that “India looks forward to welcoming” the US President. “It is an honour that he will be with us tomorrow, starting with the historic programme in Ahmedabad!” he tweeted.

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Trump, meanwhile, retweeted a meme on him based on a sequence from the blockbuster movie Bahubali, and wrote: “Look so forward to being with my great friends in INDIA!” Later, speaking to reporters outside the White House before his departure, Trump said: “I look forward to being with the people of India. We are going to have many millions and millions of people. It’s a long trip. I get along very well with Prime Minister Modi. He is a friend of mine.”

He said: “I had committed to this trip long time ago. I look forward to it. I hear it’s going to be a big event, the biggest event they ever had in India. That’s what the Prime Minister told me. It’s the biggest event they ever had. It’s going to be very exciting. I am going to be there for one night.”

In Ahmedabad, the billboards, artistes and stages, apart from thousands of local residents, will greet Trump on the route from the airport to Sabarmati Ashram, where he is expected to spend about 10 minutes to mark the first visit by a US President. He will then head to the newly rebuilt 1.1-lakh capacity Motera cricket stadium for the Namaste Trump event.

Trump will leave Ahmedabad for Agra at 3.30 pm and watch the sunset at Taj Mahal from around 5.15 pm — US officials believe Modi will accompany him but there was no confirmation from the Indian side. The US delegation will then head to Delhi for bilateral engagements Tuesday.

While a trade deal could not be finalised in time, a centre for counter-terrorism is likely to be announced along with the signing of an MoU on Homeland security that will focus on aviation and immigration security. An energy dialogue to diversify India’s requirement is also expected to be a key part of the talks.

The high-powered White House delegation includes three of Trump’s family members, and it will be the first time that the First Lady and daughter Ivanka are travelling together on an official visit.

It was in June 2017 that Modi invited Trump to visit India during their first meeting at the White House. “He had promised to visit India in his first term, and this now stands fulfilled,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said.

Shringla was seen overseeing last-minute preparations in Ahmedabad Sunday, with Home Minister Amit Shah arriving in the city to monitor the arrangements.

This will be the US President’s fifth meeting with the Prime Minister in eight months — after Osaka, Biarritz, Houston and New York — and officials said it reflects the “renewed intensity” of high-level bilateral engagement since the NDA government returned to power.

Between 1947 and 2000, only three US Presidents visited India — Dwight D Eisenhower (1959), Richard Nixon (1969) and Jimmy Carter (1978). Since then, there have been four such visits — Bill Clinton (2000), George W Bush (2006) and Barack Obama (2010 and 2015).

“The relationship with the US has evolved to one of our most consequential relationships today. It is a strategic partnership based on shared values and geared towards the 21st century. Whether in countering terrorism or in ensuring a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific, India and the US have unprecedented convergence of interests,” Shringla said.

Ahmedabad police commissioner Ashish Bhatia said 33 DCPs, 75 ACPs, 300 inspectors, 1,000 sub-inspectors, 12,000 jawans, 2,000 women personnel, 15 companies of the State Reserve Police (SRP) and three companies of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) will cover the visit in the city.

Bhatia said various security agencies, apart from the IAF, are coordinating to prevent any “untoward incident”. He said that apart from the Bomb Detection & Disposal Squad (BDDS) teams, seven Quick Response Teams (QRTs) have been deployed. Police have also banned the use of drones in the city Monday, and sought help from the DRDO to help enforce the directive.

There were some last-minute glitches, though. On Sunday morning, a makeshift gate erected to welcome visitors to the Motera stadium was brought down by strong winds. No one was injured in the incident, officials said.

Ahead of the visit, Trump had said that he expected 5-7 million, or even 10 million, Indians to welcome him. When a senior Indian official was asked about the number — Ahmedabad’s population is 7-8 million — he referred instead to the national figure and said: “More than one billion people are eager to welcome him.”

(With inputs from Avinash Nair & Sohini Ghosh in Ahmedabad and PTI in Washington)