Grand welcome awaits US president Trump as he begins India tour today

Updated on Feb 24, 2020 08:46 AM IST

Trump and his delegation, including Melania, daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner and several senior members of the US cabinet, will fly to Ahmedabad on Air Force One shortly before noon on February 24.

Policemen stand in front of a billboard displaying a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in Ahmedabad on February 23, 2020, ahead of Trump's arrival.(AFP)
Policemen stand in front of a billboard displaying a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in Ahmedabad on February 23, 2020, ahead of Trump's arrival.(AFP)
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad/Agra/New Delhi | ByRezaul H Laskar, Hemendra Chaturvedi and Prawesh Lama

US President Donald Trump will begin his tour of India with pomp and spectacle on Monday amid a grand welcome by the Indian government, with his two-day visit expected to scale up bilateral ties between the two countries, even though a big announcement of a trade deal is not expected.

The government is preparing a welcome quite unlike those put on for visiting world leaders. From being received at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel international airport by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to driving along a route with stages featuring artistes from across India and participating in the “Namaste Trump” rally at the Motera Stadium, all the arrangements made for the first leg of Trump’s maiden visit to India are on a grand scale.

After addressing the rally along with Modi, Trump and his delegation will fly to Agra so that he and First Lady Melania Trump can spend some time at the Taj Mahal before sunset. The US delegation will then fly to Delhi, where Trump and Modi will hold wide-ranging talks on Tuesday.

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As Modi and Trump hold talks on Tuesday, they are expected to focus on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues including trade and investment, defence and security, counterterrorism, energy security, religious freedom, proposed peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the situation in the Indo-Pacific, according to officials.

Just before his departure on Sunday evening, 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.”

“I had committed to this trip a 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,” he added.

PM Modi said India was looking forward to welcoming the US President. “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,” he tweeted.

Trump and his delegation, including Melania, daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner and several senior members of the US cabinet, will fly to Ahmedabad on Air Force One shortly before noon on February 24. After being received by the Prime Minister, Trump’s motorcade will travel to Sabarmati Ashram, located on the banks of the Sabarmati river and the place and where Mahatma Gandhi lived between 1917 and 1930.

After spending about 15 minutes going around the ashram with Modi, Trump will leave in his motorcade for Motera Stadium, the world’s largest cricket stadium. As his motorcade makes its way along a 22km route, it will pass 28 stages featuring artistes from as many states and exhibits depicting different aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s life and struggle for the country’s independence.

The arrangements along the route are being billed as the “India Road Show”, with officials saying this exhibition of the country’s diverse culture and heritage for Trump has few parallels in India or elsewhere. Tens of thousands of people are expected to line the route as Trump’s motorcade takes about 30 minutes to make its way to the stadium.

The local municipal corporation is arranging buses to take people from different neighbourhoods to spots along the route and the stadium. Buses will also take Gujarat’s ministers and legislators to the stadium and movement of private vehicles along the route of the US president’s motorcade and in the vicinity of the stadium will be strictly regulated.

Entry of the public to the Sabarmati Ashram was stopped at 6.30pm on Sunday as part of the multi-layered security prepared by Indian police and security agencies working alongside the US Secret Service. Thousands of policemen and traffic police personnel have been deployed across the city, especially in the vicinity of the airport and Sabarmati Ashram and along the US president’s route.

Workers installed barricades along the roads and spruced up all the areas in Ahmedabad to be visited by Trump through the night and early on Sunday, adding a fresh coat of paint at some places and testing the sound systems on the stages set up for the 28 states. At the Punjab stage, bhangra beats roared out of loudspeakers as workers made last minute adjustments to the backdrop. Across Ahmedabad, several giant screens beamed live feed of Doordarshan on Sunday evening along with loudspeakers.

Experts said the two sides are likely to pitch Trump’s visit to India a mark of growing ties between the two nations.

Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said ties between India and the US have evolved to one of the “most consequential” relationships today and both countries have unprecedented convergence of interests.

Responses to Trump’s visit from the local populace ranged from unbridled enthusiasm to indifference. Rajesh Solanki, an Uber driver, said he would give up work on Monday to go to the “Namaste Trump” show. “Such a big celebrity is coming, of course, I’ll be there. I’ve talked to some policemen I know to help me get into the stadium,” he said.

Kanjibhai Jabuvani, who works at an IT firm, said: “What does Ahmedabad get from this visit? I used to do some freelance work for US firms but that has dried up in the past two years, after Trump came in with his ‘America First’ agenda. If he was coming in with some deals that benefit India, that’d be better.”

After the “Namaste Trump” that is expected to last almost two hours, Trump will return to the airport and take off in Air Force One for Agra at 3.30pm. After a 75-minute flight, the aircraft will land at the air force station in Agra and the Trumps are expected to reach the Taj Mahal at 5.15pm. They will spend close to an hour at the 17th Century monument before Air Force One takes off again for New Delhi at 6.45pm.

At Agra too, workers have been busy sprucing up the world-famous white marble mausoleum for viewing by the Trumps at around sunset. The replicas of the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal – for whom the Taj Mahal was built – are getting the beauty treatment for the first time.

The Taj Mahal will remain closed for public viewing from 12.30pm on Monday in view of the US President’s visit. Vasant Swarankar, superintending archaeologist for Agra circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), issued a notice in this regard on Sunday. “The monument will remain closed till the departure of the guest,” the notice said.

Authorities also released vast amounts of water into the Yamuna river flowing adjacent to the Taj Mahal to lessen the whiff of raw sewage and industrial effluents. “This move may not make the Yamuna’s water fit for drinking, but could reduce the foul smell from the river,” Arvind Kumar, an engineer from the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, told AFP.

Authorities said a multi-layered security cover will be in place for the visit and police and paramilitary forces are keeping a hawk-eyed vigil in the city. The Agra commissioner said the route for Trump’s convoy from the airport to the Taj Mahal will span about 13km, and along the way, thousands of artistes will welcome him with performances at 21 designated spots.

The performances will range from the dance forms of Brij region (Mathura-Vrindavan), like Krishna Lila, to dances themed on Radha.

Huge billboards bearing images of Trump shaking hands with Modi have been put up across Ahmedabad and Agra to signify the friendship between the two countries.

Old roads were being repaired in Agra and dividers being painted afresh, while walls along the route that Trump will take were decorated with paintings reflecting the local culture and architectural heritage of the city.

ITC Maurya, the hotel where Trump will check in on Monday night, has been brought under unprecedented security with anti-sabotage teams from the army and paramilitary forces conducting checks on all routes to be used by the US president.

Security agencies are working in coordination with the US Secret Service and the anti-drone detachment of the NSG, elite SWAT commandos, canine units and snipers have been deployed in New Delhi. Police personnel from six districts and nearly 40 companies of the Central Armed Police Forces have been mobilised for the security arrangements.

Hundreds of high-definition CCTV cameras with night vision have been installed across Sardar Patel Marg, where ITC Maurya is located to monitor the situation round-the-clock.

A senior police officer said: “We have also requested anti-sabotage checking teams from paramilitary and army. They have been regularly conducting anti-sabotage checks along every route to be taken by the US president during his visit.”

An advisory issued by the Delhi Police said that owing to security reasons, during the evening hours on February 24, traffic in the areas of Delhi Cantonment, Delhi-Gurugram Road (NH 48), Dhaula Kuan, Chanakyapuri, SP Marg, RML Roundabout, and the adjoining areas is likely to remain heavy.

After being given a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan at 10am on Tuesday, Trump will travel to Rajghat to lay a wreath at the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi. At 11 am, he will go to Hyderabad House for restricted and delegation-level talks with Modi. The two sides are also expected to sign at least five MoUs covering areas such as energy security, oil and gas, intellectual property and civil nuclear cooperation. They will also conclude some defence deals.

Apart from some engagements at the US embassy, Trump will meet President Ram Nath Kovind, who will host a banquet for the president before he flies out of India at 10pm.

(With inputs from agencies)

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