In Agra, a bit of awe but little admiration for President Trump

Kusum Tewari

Donald Trump means different things to different people. But the most commonly-held opinion among a cross-section of middle-class citizenry in the town of
Taj Mahal is that the India visit of the US president is primarily intended to boost his image for the forthcoming polls back home. And that he shouldn’t have offered to mediate on

Those TOI spoke to – professors, shopkeepers, factory owners – do not follow Trump on social media. Their views on the 73-year-old businessman-turned-politician have been largely shaped by Hindi and English newspapers and news on TV.

Mohd Arshad, who teaches sociology in Agra University, reiterates that Trump is trying to project himself as a popular international leader to his domestic constituency. “That’s why he is constantly referring in his campaign speeches to the 6-10 million crowds which he says will line up for him in Ahmedabad,” he says.

Cloth merchant Gagandeep Singh agrees with that view adding that he is also trying to impress NRIs,
Gujaratis being prominent among them. To bolster the point, he also points out that the US president is not signing any major trade deal during the two-day tour.

Hundreds of banners have been put up in Agra to welcome Trump. The optics underline the friendship and closeness between Trump and Prime Minister
Narendra Modi. One of the banners picturing the two says, “Do mahaan desh, ek bemisaal dosti (Two great nations, one matchless friendship).”

But retired English professor
Nirupama Sharma says genuine friendship between two political personalities of different nations is unlikely. “There are no friends or foes in politics. It changes as per needs. Such relationships are transactional,” she says. Arshad too believes there is a coalescing of interests between the two world leaders. “Both share good chemistry. And both have an autocratic style of functioning,” he says.

Sharma also differs with Trump’s America-focussed policies. “I see the world as a global village. You cannot isolate people. I believe in living together, not raising any kind of barrier for other people,” says Sharma, who has discussed the subject extensively with her friends and relatives in the US.

Durgesh Kumar, who sells kids-wear in Bijlighar shopping area, looks at Trump as a businessman always in search of a good deal. “India is a big market and the country offers opportunities for him. Which is why he is also trying to wean India away from Russia,” he says.

Durgesh has issues with Trump offering to mediate on Kashmir. “Kashmir belongs to India. Where’s the need for any mediation?” he says.
Dinesh Kumar, who runs a small factory for leather goods, also agrees with that assessment. He feels that Trump wants to dominate India. “He wants us under his thumb,” says Dinesh. “It is probably due to Modi that he is unable to interfere as much as he wants to,” says Durgesh.

What’s undeniable is that Trump has made a major impact on the mindscape of people. They even recall policy decisions pronounced by him several years ago. One of them remembered him imposing travel restrictions on several Muslim-majority countries in 2017.

Trump may not evoke admiration but being the US president he does evoke awe. Brajmohan Singh, who sells petha for a living, said that it is good news that the most powerful man in the world is visiting India. “We can only expect something positive,” he says.

Several individuals didn’t know much about Trump, except that his impending arrival has spruced up the city and galvanized the local administration to action. Stationary mart owner Kulwinder Kaur laughed while speaking about what Trump had said last week: 6-10 million are likely to turn up for him in Ahmedabad. “But I like the way he keeps saying, ‘Believe me, believe me,’ in his speeches,” she laughs again.

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