US President Donald Trump got a rapturous and romantic welcome to India on Monday, addressing a huge rally and holding hands with his wife at the Taj Mahal, in a maiden official visit big on photo opportunities but short on concrete results.
Casting a cloud over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s welcome, however, a policeman and at least three civilians were killed in clashes in New Delhi over a contentious citizenship law hours before the US president was due in the Indian capital.
At the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in western India, Trump heaped praise on the Indian right-winger as an “exceptional leader, a great champion of India”, before a crowd of around 100,000.
Name-checking Bollywood films and Indian cricketers, Trump — with an eye on elections in November — paid tribute to the four-million-strong Indian-American diaspora as “truly special people”.
Excited spectators had queued from 4:00 am for the “Namaste Trump” rally, reciprocating a “Howdy Modi” event in Houston last year where Trump likened Modi to Elvis.
“Events like these will galvanise people to start to cooperate in new initiatives,” said Pramit Maakoday, an Indian-American in the stadium.
Before the speech, Trump and First Lady Melania visited independence hero Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, where Modi gave him a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” three wise monkeys statue.
Later Trump and Melania — in an off-white jumpsuit and sash alongside her husband in a buttercup-yellow tie — flew to the Taj Mahal for a pre-sunset tour.
Parts of the Taj Mahal, the marble monument to love that UNESCO calls a “jewel of Muslim art”, were given a mud-pack facial to remove stains, while efforts were made to lessen the stench of the adjacent river.
Trump has imposed tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium and suspended duty-free access for certain goods, prompting India to raise duties on the US to produce such as almonds.
Rather than a wide-ranging trade deal, reports said Trump and Modi may instead sign smaller agreements covering products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and US dairy products.
“I am in no rush,” he told reporters later.
The US has pressured India to stop buying Iranian oil, while US businesses have raised concerns over New Delhi’s plans to force foreign firms to store Indian consumers’ personal data inside the country.
A senior US administration official told reporters Trump would raise concerns about religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation during the trip, “which is extremely important to this administration”.
Trump ridiculed Modi last year for “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan”.
“That’s like five hours of what we spend,” Trump said.