Donald Trump looks forward to seeing ‘millions’ at his Gujarat rally

Updated on Feb 12, 2020 10:06 PM IST

Talking to the reporters at the White House on Monday, Trump said Modi told him, “we will have millions and millions of people. He thinks we will have 5-7 million people just from the airport to the new stadium”

PM Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump hold hands while leaving the Howdy Modi Community Summit in Houston, Texas.(Bloomberg)
PM Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump hold hands while leaving the Howdy Modi Community Summit in Houston, Texas.(Bloomberg)
Hindustan Times, Washington | ByYashwant Raj

US President Donald Trump is excited about the “millions” of people he expects to see on the way from the Ahmedabad airport to the venue of a public rally he is expected to jointly address with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visits India later this month with First Lady Melania Trump.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, Trump said Modi told him — this was most likely during a phone call past weekend when they discussed the upcoming visit — that “we will have millions and millions of people. He thinks we will have 5-7 million people just from the airport to the new stadium”. The stadium in question is the Motera cricket stadium. It is under construction, will be the venue of the rally and, once finished, will be the largest cricket stadium in the world.

Trump called Modi a “friend of mine” and a “great gentleman”, and marvelled at the size of crowd he was expecting to see. He likes to talk about the size of his rallies and was impressed by the 50,000 that showed up for the Howdy Modi event the two leaders addressed in Houston last September.The US president has kept a close watch on the stadium and knew it was under construction.

Prime Minister Modi followed up shortly on Twitter, assuring the president that a “memorable welcome” awaits him and the first lady. “Extremely delighted that @POTUS, @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS will visit India on 24th and 25th February. India will accord a memorable welcome to our esteemed guests.”

“This visit is a very special one and it will go a long way in further cementing India-USA friendship,” he added. In another post, he said that the two countries “share a common commitment to democracy and pluralism. Our nations are cooperating extensively on a wide range of issues. Robust friendship between our nations augurs well not only for our citizens but also for the entire world.”

The two leaders have struck up a personal rapport, according to officials from both sides, over frequent meetings and phone calls. They may have met at least four times since Modi’s re-election last summer. They spoke last weekend, the White House said in a statement Monday announcing the visit.

President Trump and the first lady will visit Ahmedabad and New Delhi and stop over briefly in Agra on the way home, according to people familiar with the discussions. The precise itinerary of the visit will be announced closer to the date, with more details about the rally and meetings.

President Trump appears keenest about the rally, which he asked for, according to the people cited earlier, impressed by the turnout at Howdy Modi . He possibly has the upcoming November election in mind when he will need every voting group large and small to win a second term.

Indian Americans are a tiny but extremely wealthy and increasingly influential minority. They have voted Democratic traditionally, but have been moving towards the Republican party in recent years, and Trump might be hastening the process with his efforts to reach out to them, starting in October 2016, when he became the first presidential nominee of a major party to address a rally exclusively of Indian Americans. And the rally in Gujarat would be another, much bigger, pitch to Indian Americans, a large number of whom come from Gujarat.

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