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Senate acquittal sets stage for Donald Trump’s India visit


WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s acquittal by the US Senate has set the stage for what is planned to be a rousing India visit with a few boxes remaining to be ticked between now and February 24 when he is expected to land in New Delhi.
The White House is yet to formally announce the visit – Trump’s first to India as President and one of the rare solo bilateral visits during his term – but officials from both sides are working diligently on the details and fine print to ensure both leaders, PM Modi and Donald Trump, have something to cheer about amid immense domestic political turmoil in both countries.
India’s new ambassador to the US Taranjit Sandhu called on the President in the White House Oval Office on Thursday to present his credentials, accompanied by his wife Reenat Sandhu, who is India’s ambassador to Italy. “The President fondly recalled his friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and their several interactions,” the Indian embassy said in an anodyne statement following the meeting, avoiding all mention of the India visit.
Sandhu also eschewed any mention of the visit at a welcome reception later in the evening, when he spoke of “unlimited potential” in ties between New Delhi and Washington, having returned to serve in what is his fourth posting in the US, making it somewhat of a homecoming.
In part, that is because both sides are still striving to seal a trade deal that is something of an obsession with President Trump, but which has been difficult to clinch because of India’s persistence in protecting its economic equities.
There are also logistical issues of New Delhi wanting to present Trump with a celebratory canvas to revel in and US security concerns with a President who is a tetchy traveler outside the country. There is also the additional new complication of the coronavirus that is starting to put a hex on foreign travel.
Both Indian and US officials are leery of talking about the visit and the precise schedule and locations given Trump’s notoriously fickle temperament that has caused him to cancel several foreign visits – including one to Denmark last year because he thought the country’s Prime Minister responded rudely to the suggestion it sell Greenland to the US.
In fact, Trump has undertaken only one solo bilateral state visit during his term (to Japan); most other foreign visits have either been multi-lateral sorties or visits to a string of countries in a region.
So far, indications are that this will be a solo India visit; Trump himself knocked down suggestion that he also visit Pakistan during the trip.
The sleek Sabarmati waterfront, a spanking new Motera Stadium, and the massive Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat are among the sites being considered as prop for the visit during which first lady Melania Trump is expected to accompany the President. A stopover at the Taj Mahal in Agra is also on the cards.
Advance American teams have returned to the US and an assessment is underway about where President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi could hold their informal talks and offer photo opportunity to a media battalion that is expected to descend on the events. The White House has initiated a media sign-up for the visit.
While the official meetings and talks are expected to take place in New Delhi, Gujarat is expected to host informal aspects of the visit. All three sites under consideration in Ahmedabad have kind of real estate and infrastructure element that would appeal to the realtor in Trump, who going by his own pronouncement in the three years, has been in office has never really gotten over his passion and eye for developing properties.
The Sabarmati riverfront, which also happens to be one of Prime Minister Modi’s pet projects and signature achievement, is expected to form the backdrop of a walk through and informal “chai pe charcha.”
The piece-de-resistance is expected to be a “Kem cho Trump!” (Howdy Trump!) rally at the new Motera Stadium, return compliments for the “Howdy Modi!” rally in Houston that Trump, according to US officials, hasn’t stopped talking about.
Hectic efforts are said to be underway to give finishing touches to the rebuilt Motera Stadium (formerly Sardar Patel stadium), – including erecting a temporary helipad that will be one of the largest sports stadiums in the world when it is inaugurated.
Although Trump is not a stranger to large stadiums (there are at least half dozen football stadiums in US with 100,000+ capacity including Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Kyle Field in Texas, and Beaver Stadium in Pennsylvania), a 100k plus crowd at a political rally will be a new experience for a President who was wowed by the 50,000 people who attended the Howdy Modi rally in Houston.
The reason for New Delhi opting to host Trump in Gujarat is not only because it is Prime Minister Modi’s home turf with some infrastructure to boast off, but also because many Indian-American Trump supporters in the US are of Gujarati origin.
In fact, the Trump family and organization have had long standing ties with Gujarati realtors and businessmen predating his ascent to the White House.
Among them is Kalpesh Mehta, founder of Tribeca Developers, and like Trump a Wharton graduate, who pioneered the concept of branded realty in India and introduced the Trump brand to the local market. Another Gujarati Indian-American entrepreneur and tech CEO Sanjay Shah, is the owner of a swish $17 million Trump Tower apartment in Chicago.
In fact, the Sabarmati riverfront development actually has echoes of the Chicago Riverfront in front of Trump Tower in the Windy City.
By some accounts, India is said to be the Trump Organization’s second-largest market outside of North America, with nearly a dozen properties in Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi – but none in Ahmedabad/Gandhi Nagar so far.

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