NEW DELHI: Excitement is mounting ahead of Donald Trump’s first visit to India, while the main city of the trip is getting a major facelift to host the American president later this month.
The enthusiasm has been projected as mutual, with First Lady Melania Trump saying she is “excited” about the trip.
“Thank you @narendramodi for the kind invitation. Looking forward to visiting Ahmedabad & New Delhi later this month @POTUS & I are excited for the trip and to celebrate the close ties between the #USA & #India,” the first lady said in a Twitter post on Wednesday night, in response to the Indian prime minister’s earlier announcement of the visit.
Trump’s two-day visit will start on Feb. 24 in Ahmedabad, the capital city of the western state of Gujarat — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s place of origin.
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is erecting walls to hide the city’s slum areas and has planted mature plum trees to get a new, greener look.
Trump will be escorted from the Ahmedabad airport by Modi in a 10-km roadshow to Sabarmati Ashram, the residence of India’s founding father Mahatma Gandhi.
The ashram was the center of the country’s freedom struggle and resistance to British imperialism.
Later, Trump and Modi will inaugurate the newly constructed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium and address a gathering which, according to Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation officials, is going to be attended by more than 100,000 people, whom the local administration is mobilizing “not only from the state but also other parts of India.”
Since the program has yet to be made public, local officials are hesitant to comment. However, the city’s mayor Bijal Patel told Arab News that “all the concerned departments are working overtime to make the event memorable.”
The event, dubbed “Kem Chho, Trump!” (Howdy Trump), is billed as a repetition of the “Howdy Modi” show that took place in Houston, Texas, during the Indian leader’s US visit in September last year, when Modi and Trump addressed a 50,000-strong Indian audience.
Trump on Tuesday told reporters at the White House that PM Modi believes there will be “5 to 7 million people (accompanying them) from the airport to the new stadium.”
“He (Modi) is a great gentleman. He is a friend of mine,” Trump said.
Meanwhile, Modi promised “a memorable welcome to our esteemed guests.”
“India and USA 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,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
He added that Trump’s “visit is a very special one and it will go a long way in further cementing India-USA friendship.”
On the evening of Feb. 24, a state dinner is planned for Trump in New Delhi. Next day, he will receive a ceremonial welcome and both Modi and Trump would hold high-level talks.
Former Indian ambassador to the US Arun Singh referred to the visit as important and signaling a relationship that “goes beyond formal interactions.”
“The last visit of a US president to India was in 2015. This visit is important in that it is signaling continuity in high-level bilateral interactions. President Trump is in the final year of his current term and is preparing for his own elections in November. His visiting India at this time shows he is personally attaching importance to the relationship,” Singh told Arab News on Thursday.
He disagreed with critical opinions that New Delhi is showing its open support for Trump’s Republican Party.
“Every time a US president has visited India there has been a public event of some kind,” Singh said.
“When Clinton came in 2000, he addressed a joint session of the Indian parliament. Similarly, when Obama came in 2015, he also addressed the parliament and spoke at a public gathering in Delhi. When Bush had come in 2006, he had spoken at the old fort in Delhi. It shows that the relationship between New Delhi and Washington goes beyond formal interactions,” he added, citing the people-to-people dimension of the relationship, as there are “4 million Indian-origin people in the US, and 200,000 Indian students in US universities.”