Trump praises Modi and declares at rally, ‘America loves India’
Ahmadabad — US President Donald Trump got a rapturous welcome to India on Monday, addressing a huge rally and visiting the Taj Mahal, in a brief state visit.
Casting a cloud over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s welcome however, a policeman was killed in clashes in New Delhi over a contentious citizenship law hours before the US president was due in the Indian capital.
In the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in western India, Trump praised the Indian leader as an “exceptional leader, a great champion of India” in front of a crowd of about 100,000.
“America loves India. America respects India, and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump told the crowd, many wearing Trump-emblazoned baseball caps.
Trump paid tribute to the 4-million strong Indian-American diaspora as “truly special people”.
“President Trump’s visit opens a new chapter in our relationship — a chapter that will document the progress and prosperity of the people of America and India,” Modi said. “The whole world knows what Trump has done to fulfil the dreams of America.”
Some spectators had queued from 4.00am for the “Namaste Trump” rally, reciprocating a “Howdy Modi” event in Houston in 2019 where Trump likened Modi to Elvis.
Workers rushed to finish the stadium and erect a wall along the route that locals said was to hide a slum. Stray dogs, cows and monkeys were also kept away.
“Events like these will galvanise people to start to co-operate in new initiatives,” said Pramit Maakoday, an Indian-American in the stadium.
Before the speech, Trump and First Lady Melania visited independence hero Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram with Modi.
The Trumps then flew to the Taj Mahal for a pre-sunset tour before heading to Delhi ahead of the main talks on Tuesday.
Behind the warm words between the two leaders lies a fraught relationship as Trump’s “America First” drive collides with Modi’s “Make in India” policy.
Trump has imposed tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium and suspended duty-free access for some goods, prompting India to raise duties on US produce such as almonds.
Trump has called India the “tariff king”, and said before his visit that Asia’s third-largest economy had been “hitting us very, very hard for many, many years”.
Rather than a wide-ranging trade deal, reports said Trump and Modi may instead sign smaller agreements covering products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and US dairy products.
“We are in the early stages of discussions for an incredible trade agreement,” Trump told the rally, calling Modi a “very tough negotiator”.
“I am in no rush,” he said later.
China and Russia
With the US and India sharing concerns about China, the two men were expected to sign a number of defence deals during the visit, and to discuss the supply of six nuclear reactors.
Russia, however, remains India’s biggest supplier in arms, with India having agreed to buy Moscow’s $5.4bn S-400 missile defence system despite the threat of US sanctions.
The US has pressured India to stop buying Iranian oil, while US businesses have raised concerns over New Delhi’s plans to force foreign firms to store Indian consumers’ personal data inside the country.
India has bristled at Trump’s offer to mediate in the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan which a year ago again brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours close to war.
In Washington, India has faced criticism over its clampdown in restive Kashmir, and the recently passed citizenship law that has led to ongoing protests across the nation, including in New Delhi on Monday.
A senior US administration official said Trump would raise concerns about religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation during the trip, “which is extremely important to this administration”.
Trump also ridiculed Modi in 2019 for “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan”.
“That’s like five hours of what we spend,” Trump said.