US President Donald Trump, addressing a huge crowd at an Ahmedabad cricket stadium today, described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his special friend and quipped: “He is a great leader. Everybody loves him, but he’s very tough.”
President Trump dedicated much of his speech at the headline event of his 36-hour India visit to effusive praise for PM Modi and India.
India, said President Trump, gives hope to all of humanity.
“Melania and I traveled 8,000 miles around the world to deliver the message America loves India, America respects India,” said the US president.
“The rise of India in the last 7 decades has been remarkable… The pace at which it has grown in the last two decades phenomenal. The people of India are an inspiration for the rest of the world,” he said.
President Trump began his speech saying: “Namaste India… I would like to begin by thanking my special friend – Prime Minister Modi. The prime minister – the son of a chiwalla (tea seller) in this very city – has had a remarkable rise…. He is a great man.” He also described the PM as a “very tough negotiator”.
In his introductory comments, PM Modi said “Namaste, Trump” thrice to welcome the US President and his family. A stadium full of people echoed the words. The two leaders hugged for the second time on the stage at the Motera cricket stadium, built at a cost of Rs 800 crore and billed as the world’s biggest.
“India, US relation is no longer just another partnership. It is now a far greater, closer relationship,” said the Prime Minister.
“Five months ago, I was invited for a historic visit to Houston where were had a programme called ‘Howdy, Modi!’… Today, he is here for a historic visit to Ahmedabad, where he is being greeted with ‘Namaste Trump’.”
PM Modi said the Trumps’ visit showed the importance and the closeness of India-US ties.
The newly-built stadium, which has a capacity of 1.1 lakh, was packed to the rafters, meeting President Trump’s expectations of being welcomed by “millions”. The seats, in the Indian team’s blue and orange colours, were covered by tens of thousands of people wearing white caps; some wore saffron scarves and danced as they waited for the two leaders.
President Trump drove to the stadium in his black armoured vehicle, the Beast, after a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram with First Lady Melania Trump.
The Trump tried their hand at Gandhi’s charkha or spinning wheel and were treated to snacks like broccoli samosa and apple pie in their short visit.
PM Modi went to the airport to greet the Trumps as they stepped off Air Force One. Folk dancers carrying colourful umbrellas danced alongside the red carpet and musicians performed on the airport grounds.
Hopes that the world’s two largest democracies could negotiate a “confidence building” deal in time for Trump’s arrival have faded in recent days as differences over agriculture, medical devices, digital trade and proposed new tariffs fester, according to business groups.