Namaste Trump, Namaste!
Trump’s extravagant reception in Gujarat might not yield the expected results
I, with my Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also greet American President Donald Trump and first lady Melania, who are on a 36-hour visit to India from today, organised by an unknown mysterious entity named 'Donald Trump Nagarik Abhivadan Samiti'. I salute the members of this organisation for their skills for being able to organise such a massive event despite the fact that most of them did not even know that they are the members of an illustrious organising committee till a few hours back of Trump's arrival. Their ability to bring a huge crowd with equally huge funding at such a short notice must be acclaimed.
It's clear that Trump's visit is an unofficial affair. The government headed by Narendra Modi is not the official host, neither the state government of Gujarat. The Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera (Ahmedabad) can accommodate little more than one lakh people but Trump had made a claim that the Indian Prime Minister has told him that there will be 10 million people to greet him. He mentioned the figure of 7 million while speaking to reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland last week. The entire population of the city of Ahmedabad is around 7 million.
Trump talks big. Our Prime Minister is no less. Trump told the media that his visit is going to be very exciting as Indian Prime Minister has told him that between the airport and the stadium, we will have about 7 million people. Within three days of his interaction with the journalists, Trump upped the crowd by 3 million and in 'Keep America Great' rally at Colorado said, "I hear, they are going to have 10 million people. They say, anywhere up to 10 million people are going to be showing up along the route to one of the largest stadium in the world, which is brand new and beautiful."
As per various estimates, Trump's 3-hour visit to the city is going to cost Rs 60 crore an hour — that is Rs 180 crore. No one has an idea from where the money coming. No one, even the members of the organising committee, knows when the invitation to Trump was extended. When was it accepted by Trump? Who is setting up 28 stages from various parts of the country along Trump's route from the airport to the stadium? When national or state governments are not hosting Trump, why then is there a website for the event that has been designed by Gujarat's Science and Technology Department?
Trump's eagerness to visit India could be presumed as he is seeking re-election for the presidency in November and the Indian population in his country commands effective influence apart from its reasonably sizable presence. But, watching Modi disregarding all the norms in navigating the fine line between a gracious host to Trump is a cause of disquiet. He appears to openly support Trump's quest for re-election. He was not shy in extending his support to him for presidential elections during 'Howdy Modi'. Ahmedabad is just an extension. US politics is growing ever more polarised. Not as Modi, but surely as the Prime Minister of India, the best way for Modi should have been to preserve broad-based support across both parties — Republicans and Democrats. Since Trump's impeachment trial it is his first overseas trip. Keeping in view the current global political climate, every interaction with the controversial president entails intense scrutiny.
Modi must realise that though India and the US are managing steady relations at the moment outside the Oval Office, the US establishment is watching India's majoritarian turn with growing concern. The US is in the throes of a presidential election. State-level primary voting is underway. India must be careful of the fact that despite being only the third president in American history to be impeached, Trump is unbowed. Defiant as ever, he feels vindicated by the subsequent acquittal and free to attack his political rivals.
"World's largest democracy meets the world's oldest democracy" reads the welcome daubed in bright letters across a newly built wall in Ahmedabad. But the wall cannot hide the reality of outrage at the project. "Trump finally got his wall" has been the welcome song for past few weeks. Eviction notices served to the slum dwellers, removal of street vendors from the motorcade route and the clearance of all stray dogs, cats and monkeys were the topics of serious media debates.
American media has expressed its opinion on Trump's visit by saying "The adulation India typically shows US presidents is likely to play well to Trump's ego, while Modi, grappling with a huge backlash against his BJP government's new citizenship law and one of India's biggest periods of unrest in 40 years, will hope to bolster his domestic image". Another op-ed says, "Partly because they have not been able to get to a trade deal, Prime Minister Modi will make an extra effort in delivering something else to President Trump which is great optics."
Our PM should recognise that true strategic autonomy is our way forward. Putting all the eggs in the American basket is ill-considered. Trump trades on xenophobia. India must not become a theatre for Trump's domestic politics.
I fear, 'Namaste Trump' can prove a 'final namaste' to Trump in American politics. After all, he has various issues to address on his home turf. He has no proper answers to them. His efforts to polarise American society are getting a negative response. They feel that it's time for a quiet stir of alertness because polarizing people could be a good way to win an election, but it is also equally a good way to wreck a country. And, like Indians, Americans also are showing strong unwillingness to the idea of diffraction.
The writer is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. Views expressed are strictly personal