Trump receives massive welcome at India's 'Namaste, Trump' rally

Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered President Donald Trump the largest rally of his American political career at a cricket stadium in Ahmedabad. The two leaders, ideologically aligned, hope for political boosts from the rally.

Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump (center), first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for "Namaste Trump" at Sardar Patel Stadium, Feb. 24, 2020, in Ahmedabad, India. Trump aides believe images from his India tour will boost his reelection campaign.

Basking in adulation from a massive, colorful crowd, President Donald Trump and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi lavished each other with praise on Monday in a reaffirmation of United States-India ties as the subcontinent poured on the pageantry in a joyful welcome for the U.S. president. Mr. Trump capped his whirlwind day with a sunset tour of India's famed Taj Mahal.

More than 100,000 people packed the world's largest cricket stadium in Mr. Modi's home state to give Mr. Trump the biggest rally crowd of his political career. The event was the pinnacle of the day's enviable trio of presidential photo-ops, and was sandwiched between Mr. Trump's visits to a former home of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and the Taj Mahal.

Nearly everyone in the newly constructed stadium in Ahmedabad in western India sported a white cap with the name of the event, "Namaste, Trump" or "Welcome, Trump," and roared for the introductions of both leaders.

But miles away in the capital of New Delhi, Indian police used tear gas and smoke grenades to disperse a crowd of clashing protesters hours before Mr. Trump was due to arrive, as violence broke out over a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims. Anti-Mr. Trump street demonstrations also erupted in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Gauhati, but not in the city where Mr. Trump was hosted.

Embarking on a whirlwind 36-hour visit, Mr. Trump opened his speech in Ahmedabad by declaring that he had traveled 8,000 miles to deliver the message that "America loves India, America respects India, and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people."

The boisterous scene featured musicians on camels and a musical medley of Bollywood hits and Mr. Trump's campaign rally playlist, including numerous Elton John songs that seemed to puzzle most of the crowd. Mr. Trump basked in the raucous reception that has eluded him on many foreign trips, some of which have featured massive protests and icy handshakes from world leaders. In India, he instead received a warm embrace – literally – from the ideologically aligned and noted hugger Mr. Modi.

The sun-baked city of Ahmedabad bustled as Mr. Trump arrived, its streets teeming with people eager to catch a glimpse of the American president. Newly cleaned roads and planted flowers dotted the roads amid hundreds of billboards featuring the president and first lady Melania Trump. Thousands lined his motorcade route, shy of the up to 10 million that Mr. Trump speculated would be on hand.

His first stop was Gandhi's home, where Mr. Trump donned a prayer shawl and removed his shoes. He inspected the spinning wheel used by the famed pacifist and looked at a statue of monkeys representing Gandhi's mantra of "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil" before departing for a far more boisterous setting: the mega-rally at the world's largest cricket stadium.

Mr. Trump's motorcade traveled amid cheers from a battery of carefully picked and vetted Modi loyalists and workers from his Bharatiya Janata Party who stood for hours alongside the neatly manicured 14-mile stretch of road to accord the president a grand welcome on his way to the newly constructed stadium. Tens of thousands of police officers were on hand to keep security tight and a new wall has come up in front of a slum, apparently to hide it from presidential passersby.

The "Namaste Trump" rally was, in a way, the back half of home-and-home events for Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump, who attended a "Howdy Modi" rally in Houston last year that drew 50,000 people. Mr. Trump, who spoke for 27 minutes, lavished praise on both Mr. Modi and the democracy he leads, touting an effort to lift residents out of extreme poverty, saying "India gives hope to all of humanity."

This trip, in particular, reflects a Trump campaign strategy to showcase him in his presidential role during short, carefully managed trips that provide counter-programming to the Democrats' primary contest and produce the kinds of visuals his campaign can use in future ads. His aides also believe the visit could help the president woo tens of thousands of Indian-American voters before the November election.

The visit also comes at a crucial moment for Mr. Modi, a fellow populist, who has provided over a steep economic downturn and unfulfilled campaign promises about job creation. When Mr. Trump touches down in Delhi later Monday, he will find a bustling, noisy, colorful capital that also is dotted with half-finished construction projects stalled due to disappearing funding.

The president will conclude his whirlwind visit to India on Tuesday in the capital, including meetings with Mr. Modi over stalled trade talks and a gala dinner. The two nations are closely allied, in part to act as a bulwark against the rising influence of China. Mr. Trump announced at the stadium that India would soon buy $3 billion of American military equipment.

But trade tensions between the two countries have escalated since the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from India. India responded with higher penalties on agricultural goods and restrictions on U.S. medical devices. The U.S. retaliated by removing India from a decades-old preferential trade program.

Mr. Trump voiced optimism that a deal could be reached but also lightheartedly told the rally crowd about Mr. Modi: "Everybody loves him, but I will tell you this. He's very tough."

Mr. Trump has refrained from publicly rebuking world leaders for human rights abuses during his overseas trips. He made no specific mention of the citizenship debate during the rally, but included passing references to religious tolerance for all faiths, including Islam. He also specifically referred to the United States' success combating "radical Islamic terrorism," particularly originating from India's longtime rival, Pakistan.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Sheikh Saaliq contributed reporting. Mr. Lemire reported from New Delhi. AP writers Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville in Washington and Emily Schmall in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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