IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council
US President Donald Trump’s visit has got off to a better start than one could have expected. His Sabarmati Ashram visit along with his wife with hands at Mahatma Gandhi’s spinning wheel sent a subtle message, given Gandhiji’s simplicity and Trump’s ostentation, Gandhiji’s abhorrence of violence contrasted with a President who boasts of having spent $2.5 trillion on rebuilding the US military.
The visit was image-burnishing for the moment as it made him look less vain.
Struck the right note
Trump’s speech at the Motera stadium surpassed expectations in many ways. Speeches on such occasions are audience-oriented, but constructing the right message and giving it substance beyond the usual pleasant rhetoric requires savviness.
His speech struck all the right notes about Modi’s leadership and India’s achievements under him. He was lavish in referring to him as “an exceptional leader”, a “champion of India”, a “great Prime Minister”, and a “tremendously successful leader”.
He noted his electoral victory at the largest election anywhere (at least in this respect Trump conceded Modi is ahead of him).
Even allowing for Trump’s penchant for inflated vocabulary, this kind of unstinted praise on Indian soil before a massive audience, relayed nationwide on TV and other media sends a powerful message to those in India, the US and elsewhere in the West who have bought the narrative of Modi as dividerin-chief, anti-Muslim and a Hindu chauvinist presiding over an intolerant India.
On the eve of Trump’s visit, a US spokesperson let it be known that Trump will in public and private raise the issue of religious freedom and India will be encouraged to uphold its demo cratic traditions and institutions.
None of this was hinted at in Trump’s speech, but the visit is not over. One hopes that at Delhi during the joint press meeting or a separate press briefing by Trump to the US press, or in some factsheet issued by the US embassy, this kind of American concern is not mentioned or listed.
Otherwise it would give the Opposition the stick they want to beat the Modi government with and will cast an unwanted shadow on the remarkably positive results of the visit so far.
Trump was visibly overwhelmed by the rousing welcome he got. He will not get a welcome on such a scale anywhere else. Trump is popular in India, but beyond that, aspirational India responds positively to America.
The repeated hugs between the two leaders, with no reticence on Trump’s side, shows that the level of comfort at the personal level between them is now strong, though how far this will get translated into hard ball negotiations on many issues is a matter of speculation. It is interesting that Trump twice mentioned how “tough” Modi is. If Modi can be tough, so can Trump.
All praise for the PM
Trump acknowledged in glowing terms India’s astounding progress, calling it a miracle of democracy, referring to Indians as “strong and noble people”, a “hope for all humanity”.
He validated Modi’s achievements in providing electricity to all villages, the 320 million Internet connections, cooking gas connections, huge success in sanitation, poverty eradication, highway construction, etc.
In a veiled reference to China, he noted this has been achieved democratically and peacefully as a free country, with respect for dignity of every person, trust in its cit izenry, and without coercion, intimidation or aggression.
His well-crafted speech made appealing references to India’s culture and civilisation, citing Vivekanand, Bollywood’s creativity, Indian cricket icons, Sardar Patel’s monumental statue, the meaning of Diwali, Holi, the many religions living peacefully side by side, rule of law, and so on.
He paid a handsome tribute to the four million people of Indian origin in America.