Howdy Trump! India gears up for US president’s visit

Gujarat police's bomb detection & disposal squad officials inspect Gandhi Ashram, one of the venues likely to be visited by US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Howdy Trump! India gears up for US president’s visit

  • Trump’s two-day visit will start on Feb. 24 in Ahmedabad

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.”

Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

Updated 18 February 2020

Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

  • Police say Internet users misuse social media ‘to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities’
  • Ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remains in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have registered a case against unidentified Internet users who employed virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent a social media ban in the disputed region, police said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to stop their use.
Police said they misused social media “to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities.”
“Hundreds of suspected misusers have been identified and are being probed,” said Tahir Ashraf, who heads the police cyber division in Srinagar, the region’s main city.
Police said in a statement Monday that they have seized “a lot of incriminating material,” adding that the accused could be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which also allows the government to designate individuals as “terrorists.”
Police officials questioned several users about their social media posts. However, no formal arrests have been made.
Inspector-General Vijay Kumar appealed to the general public not to use social media via VPNs.
Kashmiris are evading censorship of the Internet and social media by using VPNs, which are widely used globally to access restricted websites, after authorities in January allowed the restive region’s 7 million people to access government-approved websites, six months after cutting off the Internet entirely.
In August last year, India stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and statehood and imposed a total communications blackout. Authorities heralded the recent restoration of limited Internet access as a step toward normalcy, but are continuing a ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Police officer Ashraf said “misuse of social media has caused widespread disinformation and fake news.” It was unclear whether authorities would clamp down on general social media users over the ban on use of social media sites.
Since the Internet ban was partially lifted on Jan. 25, some Kashmiris have shared access to banned sites through VPNs and taken to the web to denounce the government’s actions in the region.
Critics say the tight Internet restrictions are “far worse censorship than anywhere in the world” and could spearhead a new level of government control over information allowing it to further restrict freedoms in Kashmir.
“Everything is policed here. There’s no privacy in our lives,” said Ikram Ahmed, a university student. “Now we will have people in jails for mere use of social media.”
The portion of the divided Kashmir region that India controls is one of the most militarized places in the world.
Kashmiri rebels have fought for decades for its independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers the other part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Archrivals India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the territory, both claiming it in its entirety.