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Trump says Modi promised ‘millions and millions’ of people will greet him on first India trip

State visit by Donald and Melania Trump to include Delhi and Modi's home state of Gujarat

Adam Withnall
Delhi
Wednesday 12 February 2020 13:47 GMT
Comments
Trump says Modi promised ‘millions and millions’ of people will greet him on India trip

Donald Trump says he has been told to expect “millions and millions of people” lined up to greet him when he and Melania Trump undertake their first visit to India later this month.

Speaking in the Oval Office, the US president called Indian prime minister Narendra Modi “a friend of mine” and “a great gentleman”, and hinted at the prospect of signing a limited trade agreement during the trip.

Mr Trump will travel to India on 24 and 25 February and as well as the capital Delhi, he is set to be given a grand welcome at the new 110,000-capacity Motera cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, billed as the largest stadium of its kind in the world.

Mr Modi first invited Mr Trump to visit India back in 2017. The pair had a phone call over the weekend, after which the White House confirmed the dates for the long-awaited trip.

“I just spoke with Prime Minister Modi, and - I don’t know who’s going - but he said we’ll have millions and millions of people,” Mr Trump told reporters.

The president joked that his American audiences paled by comparison. Referring to his rally in New Hampshire on Monday, which had an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 spectators, he said: “When we have 50,000 people, I’m not going to feel so good… [in Ahmedabad] we’ll have five to seven million people just from the airport to the new stadium.”

In tweets on Wednesday, Mr Modi said he was “extremely delighted” that Mr Trump and the First Lady would be visiting, and promised to provide a “memorable welcome”.

“India and [the US] share a common commitment to democracy and pluralism,” he said. “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 stadium event in Ahmedabad has provisionally been dubbed "Kem Cho Trump", the closest Hindi equivalent to the "Howdy Modi" event held in Houston in September last year.

Ahmedabad is a significant destination for Mr Modi, being the largest city and former capital in his home state of Gujarat. Previous state visits to feature a stop in the city include those of Xi Jinping in 2014, Japan’s Shinzo Abe in 2017 and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018.

It is the state where Mr Modi made his name as chief minister - and where he was accused of allowing a massacre of minority Muslims to take place during riots in 2002.

Gujarat is also a significant state for America, with a large number of Gujarati diaspora living in the US. Those links are expected to be highlighted during the stadium event.

In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham referred to Gujarat as “Prime Minister Modi’s home state… [which] played such an important role in Mahatma Gandhi’s life and leadership of the Indian independence movement.”

Ms Grisham said the trip “will further strengthen the US-India strategic partnership and highlight the strong and enduring bonds between the American and Indian people”.

When questioned on Tuesday evening, Mr Trump went one step further, dangling the prospect of a limited trade agreement to end the tit-for-tat tariffs each side has imposed on the other since Mr Trump accused India of being the “tariff king of the world”.

India is hopeful of securing waivers for its domestic products of high US tariffs against imported steel and aluminium, as well as greater access to the lucrative American market for Indian-made agriculture and automobile components.

The US wants India to cut import duties on some of its IT products, and grant access for American dairy items, medical devices and farm and manufacturing products.

Asked about the prospect of signing a deal during the visit, Mr Trump said: “They (India) want to do something and we’ll see…if we can make the right deal, [we] will do it.”

A Reuters report earlier this week said that officials on both sides are preparing a $2.6bn (£2bn) deal for military helicopters from American company Lockheed Martin that could be signed during the trip.

India has ramped up its spending on US defence technology, up to $17bn since 2007, as part of an effort to modernise its military while reducing the US-India trade deficit and sweeten relations with Washington.

Mr Modi's cabinet security committee is expected to clear the purchase of 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian navy in the next two weeks. The acquisition will help India’s navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is expanding its presence.

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