A week from now, President Donald Trump will visit India and spend three hours in Ahmedabad, which, according to news reports, will cost the Gujarat state government at least Rs. 100 crores, or about $ 14 million. The 22 km-long roadshow, the longest for a visiting dignitary in the state, will take Trump and Modi from the city’s airport to the Sabarmati Ashram, and then on to the newly built cricket stadium in Motera. The stadium, named after the Iron Man, can seat 1,10,000 people and should be a replica of the show held In Houston on 22 September 2019, at the NRG stadium which attracted 50,000 people.
Why, now, with what purpose, and why him — could all be good questions to raise but to which there are going to be no good answers. It is as if Prime Minister Narendra Modi has got so enamoured with such roadshows that he has stopped thinking about the ends and goals of conducting them, and the cost of staging them. At best, this tamasha will give Ahmedabad a facelift, but the fallout from this farce is going to ensure that Modi and Trump will now be tied at the hip forever, and there will be no escaping the millions of words of mockery and derision aimed at the two on op-ed pages around the world, and the 24-hour gabfests on TV.
What has Trump got in common with Gujarat and Gujaratis? Some money-making savvy? Hmm… maybe, and let’s give it to him/them, though it would be at best a backhanded compliment. This American president, who is not known for anything civil, cultivated, or sagacious, and who is basically a loud-mouthed, tweet-crazy vulgarian, does have another thing going for him in Gujarat — and that is he does not drink alcohol! “You call this a ‘dry’ state? Ah, I see. I thought it rained very little here, and that is why you called it ‘dry’. I get it now. Very interesting.”
As to the cricket stadium, the Iron Man may turn his face away from it all, standing tall as he does at 600 ft and 200 km away, and wonder why a cricket stadium would be named after him, and why it would forever bear a plaque indicating that it was inaugurated by the most controversial, if not hated, president of the United States in living memory. But we can see that in the Modi-era Gujarat will have as many public places named after the Sardar as there are places named after the Mahatma.
And what would the Mahatma be thinking, wherever he is residing after retiring from this blessed earth, about this visitor to his ashram? What silly nonsense might Trump say as he is led around the ashram and presented with a little charkha to take home? One shudders at the thought of what it is about the Mahatma he might show interest in, and what he may say about the “Father of the Nation”: “No, enemas are not for me, nor peanuts; just give me a Whopper any day, and make sure it is not one of those impossible ones!”
Would the Rs 100 crore spent in Gujarat and whatever the money spent in Delhi hosting Trump be worth it for India? A great trade deal which would help India get on track to become a five-trillion dollar economy by 2025? How clear-eyed are India’s diplomats, economists, and the BJP leadership about what Trump can offer, and whether that offer would have traction if, in November, he is defeated? A Bloomberg, if he is the man to defeat Trump, might consider playing ball with India but none of the others – Sanders, Biden, Buttigieg, or Warren – if they were to be the one trouncing Trump in the elections – would want to continue with any deals this man has negotiated with others. In the short term, who knows, if Gujarat’s apparel makers will land a deal to manufacture “MAGA” hats and recoup some money the state plans to spend on this visit…
But Trump could win in November, and what would that mean for trade and relationship with India? How trustworthy is this man? As many of his cabinet picks know, to their eternal regret and shame, his commitment lasts only as long as you are gullible, and depending upon who else will woo him if he is re-elected, India and Modi might very well be scurrying for cover from a recovered Xi Jinping and a triumphalist Imran Khan.
On this visit, we can expect Trump to learn to bring his hands together in a “namaste”, and there is some potential for a photo-op as Trump waves to people and brings his palms together on the 22 km-ride to the Motera stadium. As we know, this man has a fear of germs and would prefer not to shake hands with people. Namaste will work.
Politically, in the US, what would the effect of this Trump visit be for Indian Americans? Dyed-in-the-wool Democrats would have a field day, even a fine season, mocking the Don-Narendra duo, manufacturing “MAGA-Bhakt” memes and writing op-eds with “ultra-nationalist” themes. The New York Times and The Washington Post cartoonists would be licking their pen nibs thinking of clever ways of having Modi and Trump riding an elephant – bringing the Republican symbol and the Indian veneration for the “Gaja” together in deliberately wicked ways: Trump riding an elephant giving a thumbs up, with Modi leading it as the mahout? Trump and Modi hugging on top of an elephant which is trampling on the Indian and American constitutions? Let your imagination run, and groan… I do not have a crystal ball, and even if I had one, would hate to look into it over the next four weeks. Good luck, y’all!