‘Namaste Trump:’ Indian Prime Minister Holds Huge Rally for President’s Visit

By Reuters

AHMEDABAD, India—U.S. President Donald Trump was cheered by more than 100,000 Indians at the opening of the world’s biggest cricket stadium on Monday, promising “an incredible trade deal” and “the most feared military equipment on the planet” at his biggest rally abroad.

Indians wore cardboard Trump masks and “Namaste Trump” hats to welcome the U.S. president at the huge new Motera stadium in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own political homeland, the western city of Ahmedabad.

U.S. officials have described Trump’s visit as a way to counter China’s rise as a superpower.

“You have done a great honor to our country. We will remember you forever, from this day onwards India will always hold a special place in our hearts,” Trump said to thunderous applause.

Trump’s personal approval rating in India is above 50 percent. India has built up ties with the United States in recent years.

“As we continue to build our defense cooperation, the United States looks forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet,” Trump said.

Trump said the two countries will sign military helicopter deals worth $3 billion and that the United States must become the premier defense partner of India, which has relied on Russian equipment since the Cold War. Reuters reported earlier that India has cleared the purchase of 24 helicopters from Lockheed Martin worth $2.6 billion.

Modi embraced Trump as he stepped off Air Force One, along with his wife, Melania.

Folk dancers carrying colorful umbrellas danced alongside the red carpet as drummers, trumpeters, and other musicians performed on the airport grounds to welcome Trump and the U.S. delegation. Teeming crowds lined the route along his cavalcade, many clicking pictures on their phones.

Trump also visited the Taj Mahal in Agra and will hold official meetings in Delhi during his trip.

Taj Mahal Trump and Melania
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose as they visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, on Feb. 24, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump, Melania in Taj Mahal
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose as they visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, on Feb. 24, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The two sides did not manage to hammer out a trade deal ahead of the visit, with differences remaining over agriculture, medical devices, digital trade, and proposed new tariffs. Trump said he was going to discuss economic ties with Modi, describing him as a tough negotiator.

“We will be making very, very major, among the biggest ever made, trade deals. We are in the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the United States and India,” he said.

“And I am optimistic that working together, the prime minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that’s good and even great for both of our countries—except that he is a very tough negotiator.”

The two sides have been arguing over U.S. demands for access to India’s poultry and dairy markets, Indian price controls on medical devices such as stents, and stringent local data storage rules that U.S. technology firms say will raise the cost of doing business.

NTD Photo
U.S. President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a “Namaste Trump,” event at Sardar Patel Stadium, in Ahmedabad, India, on Feb. 24, 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Modi’s government has sought restoration of trade concessions Trump withdrew in 2019 and greater access to U.S. markets for Indian pharmaceutical and farm products.

Pulling Out All Stops

Modi, who has built a personal rapport with Trump, is pulling out the stops for Trump’s visit.

“There is so much that we share, shared values and ideals… shared opportunities and challenges, shared hopes and aspirations,” said Modi at the rally.

Trump, who faces his own reelection campaign this year, has frequently praised Modi for his crowd-pulling power.

Last year, Trump held a “Howdy Modi” rally with Modi in Houston, drawing 50,000 people, mainly Indian Americans. At the time, Trump likened Modi to Elvis Presley as a draw for crowds.

Trump’s entourage includes daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner as well as members of his cabinet, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

The duo together garlanded an image of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi after stopping briefly to visit his former home, Sabarmati Ashram.

From Ahmedabad, Trump and his entourage headed to Agra for a sunset visit to the Taj Mahal.

By Steve Holland and Alasdair Pal