NEW DELHI — When presidents go abroad, their trips are typically prewired to include a number of “deliverables,” things like trade deals, security agreements and heavily scripted statements by leaders of their affection for one another.
But President Donald Trump’s journey halfway around the world this coming week is primarily about something else India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised him — a massive, largely adoring crowd, perhaps the largest he’s ever addressed.
When he steps off Air Force One on Monday in Ahmedabad, a metropolis in the northwestern state of Gujarat that is the birthplace of Modi and Mahatma Gandhi, Trump will motorcade directly to the new Motera Stadium, christening the 110,000-capacity cricket grounds, set to become the world’s largest, with a political rally that will provide Trump the popular adulation he has long sought on the world stage and imagery he can utilize in his reelection campaign.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” Trump crowed last week, saying that Modi has assured him that vast throngs will line the roads. “He says between the stadium and the airport, we’ll have about 7 million people.”
Indian officials countered with a quick reality check, predicting the roadside turnout will be closer to 100,000. Ahmedabad’s entire population is 5.5 million.
Trump, who has canceled trips to Poland, Denmark, Peru, Columbia and Switzerland and is known for wanting to sleep in his own bed whenever possible, will make the 7,472-mile trek to India even though a long-sought bilateral trade agreement, despite hurried efforts in recent weeks, appears nowhere close to consummation.
U.S. exports to India have slowed in recent months, widening the trade deficit, and Modi has turned out to be more protectionist than the White House anticipated, hiking tariffs and customs duties, advancing a personal data-protection bill, e-commerce regulations and taking steps to close some markets. If the two leaders announce progress in some areas, perhaps on medical devices or agricultural products, it could allow them to paper over lingering differences with a marginal step forward.
“There is not quite a trade war between the two countries. It’s more like a trade skirmish,” said Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and the author of a new book on how China’s rise has strengthened the U.S.-India alliance.
“Both sides feel the other has changed goalposts, and there are domestic political sensitivities in India to some of the concessions that the Trump administration wants.”
In the absence of a major announcement on trade, Trump and Modi plan to finalize smaller agreements by India to purchase $3.5 billion in defense equipment, including helicopters manufactured by Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
India, Madan said, typically would stay away from the public spectacle of a rally for a visiting politician, especially one in a reelection year, in the interest of avoiding anything that could be construed as an endorsement. Similarly, the public trumpeting of newly signed defense contracts is out of character for the Indian government.
But with Trump, both are seen as necessary concessions.
“You will see them try to roll out the red carpet and ensure that he leaves with a good feeling about India,” Madan said. “It’s not about him, per se, for them. The U.S. relationship for India is crucial as they look at not just the China challenge that’s looming, but also an economic growth slowdown.”
Trump also plans to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra on Monday evening and will take part in a full day of meetings and ceremonial events in New Delhi on Tuesday, as well as a news conference, before returning to Washington.
Ironically, Modi has constructed a government wall for Trump’s arrival — 1,640 feet of bricks, hastily built — to enclose and partially block the president’s passing view of a dismal slum with more than 2,000 residents near the new stadium.
Crews also have been busy picking up trash in Agra, where this week state authorities released water to help flush out the Yamuna River, which runs alongside the Taj Mahal and has long been fouled by algae and pollution.
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Source: LA Times