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After 'Howdy Modi', its 'Namaste Trump' as both leaders look to strengthen ties

After Howdy Modi, its Namaste Trump as both leaders look to strengthen ties

New Delhi/Washington DC: With the next Presidential Election knocking on US President Donald Trump's door, his state visit to India, which is seemingly an extension of his outreach for Indian-American voters witnessed at the Howdy Modi event last year, is set to take off today with the Air Force One landing in Ahmedabad around 12 pm. While both the Trump administration and the Narendra Modi government have clarified that the two leaders will discuss trade, defence and other bilateral issues, a final trade deal is not likely to materialise during this visit.

Trump, who is also accompanied by daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner and top brass of his administration, will get a taste of India's cultural potpourri during his Gujarat itinerary which is high on symbolism, especially after the bonhomie between the two leaders at the 'Howdy, Modi!' event in Houston.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a friend of mine. I had committed to this trip long time back. I will be addressing a big rally," Trump, who is the seventh US president to visit the country, said at the White House before leaving for India.

The nearly 36-hour-long visit by Trump is also set to send across a clear message of growing congruence of interests on major geopolitical developments in the region and beyond, particularly when China has been expanding its military might and economic clout.

Dance groups and singers from different parts of the country will be performing on stages that are dotting the 22-km route of the 'India roadshow' in the city that has was been spruced up for Trump's visit. Huge billboards of the two leaders and replicas of historic places in Gujarat have also been placed along the roads where people will greet the two leaders.

"India looks forward to welcoming @POTUS @realDonaldTrump. It is an honour that he will be with us tomorrow, starting with the historic programme in Ahmedabad," tweeted Modi.

Over 10,000 police personnel, besides officials of the United States Secret Service, and personnel of the National Security Guards (NSG) and the Special Protection Group (SPG) have been deployed for the high profile visit.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Sunday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi whether he would raise with Trump the issue of easing of the H-1B visas for Indians, the restoration of GSP status and the security concerns vis-a-vis the Taliban. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala wondered why Prime Minister Modi was "silent" on his "India First" policy as President Trump talked of "America First".

He asked whether Modi would ensure cheaper oil for India after it stopped buying oil from Iran in view of US-imposed sanctions and if Indian steel exports would get a boost when New Delhi commits to $3 billion in defence purchases.

Earlier on Sunday, the US embassy issued a clarification over Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and deputy CM Manish Sisodia's omission from the list of dignitaries invited for US first lady Melania Trump's Tuesday visit to a Delhi government school to witness a 'happiness class' in motion.

Embassy's clarification comes amid a political war over the issue that has pitched the BJP against the opposition parties including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which runs the Delhi government, credited with the much publicised and acclaimed educational reforms at the centre of the VVIP visit.

"While US Embassy had no objection to the presence of CM and Deputy CM, we appreciate their

recognition that this isn't a political event and that it's best to ensure focus is on education, school, and students," a spokesperson in the US embassy said following a media query on the issue.

Trump, with a brief re-fuel stopover in Germany, will arrive on Monday around noon in Ahmedabad where Prime Minister Modi is expected to receive him at the airport.

Prime Minister Modi will accompany Trump to the Sabarmati Ashram, which was home to Mahatma Gandhi from 1917-1930 during India's freedom struggle. Ashram secretary Amrut Modi said that Trump will spend 15 minutes at the place.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to greet Trump in a massive road show in Ahmedabad before he arrives at the newly-built Motera cricket stadium, which has a capacity of over 1,00,000 people, for the 'Namaste Trump' event.

Bollywood singers Kailash Kher and Parthiv Gohil, and Gujarati folk singers like Kirtidan Gadhvi, Gita Rabari, Purushottam Upadhyay and Sairam Dave will perform at the stadium, officials of the Gujarat Cricket Association said.

Students of various government and private schools have also been roped in to perform at cultural events and they have been practising for days, an official said.

Billboard with slogans hailing Indo-US relations like 'the world's oldest democracy meets the world's largest democracy' and 'stronger friendship for a brighter future', and pictures of Trump and Modi walking together, shaking hands, and waving at the crowd during the 'Howdy Modi' event in the US last year have come up at prominent places.

As the city was buzzing with last-minute preparations, there were some minor hiccups.

Two makeshift VVIP entry gates erected outside the newly-built cricket stadium in Motera collapsed due to gusty winds on Sunday morning, but no one was injured in both the incidents, officials said.

From Ahmedabad, the US president will travel to Agra to have a glimpse of the iconic Taj Mahal. The Trump family will spend about an hour at the Taj Mahal before sunset. Then they will leave for Delhi for the main leg of the visit.

On the morning of February 25, Trump and the First Lady would be accorded a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. From there, they would go to Rajghat to pay homage at the 'samadhi' of Mahatma Gandhi.

It would be followed by restricted and delegation-level talks between Trump and Modi at Hyderabad House.

Prime Minister Modi would host a lunch for the US president following the bilateral talks.

In the afternoon, Trump is expected to attend certain private events at the US Embassy, including a roundtable with industry representatives.

In the evening, the US president will meet President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. A banquet will be hosted by Kovind.

President Trump would depart from India later that evening.

In their talks on Tuesday, Trump and Prime Minister Modi are likely to focus on a wide variety of bilateral and regional issues including trade and investment, defence and security, counter-terrorism, energy security, religious freedom, proposed peace deal with Taliban in Afghanistan and situation in the Indo-Pacific, according to Indian and US officials.

Trump's visit to India comes at a time when the country has been witnessing wide-spread protests against a new citizenship law and strain in New Delhi's ties with Islamabad over the Kashmir issue.

The visiting American delegation includes Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and National Security Advisor Robert O' Brien.

Senior advisors to President Stephen Miller, Dan Scavino, Chief of Staff to the First Lady Lindsay Reynolds, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Telecommunication Policy and Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff Robert Blair, and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham are the other members of the delegation. United States Ambassador to India Ken Juster is also part of the delegation.

with agencies inputs

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