NEW DELHI :
Ahmedabad, which will host a massive rally in honour of US President Donald Trump, wore a festive look with just hours to go before the Air Force One aircraft touches down at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in the city.
An unprecedented security blanket has been thrown over the city for Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, who left Washington on Sunday en route to Ahmedabad to start their India trip.
The Trumps will spend three-and-a-half hours in the heritage city, divided between photo-ops at Sabarmati Ashram and the Namaste Trump event at Motera stadium.
“I haven’t seen such a bandobast here even when Chinese President Xi Jinping came in 2014 or when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited after the 2019 general elections,” said 36-year-old Amit Kumar Joshi, an Ola driver.
The city, founded by Ahmed Shah, from whom it takes its name, is awash with hoardings, some say numbering around 3,000. The city has been spruced up with a fresh coat of paint on the walls and the scrubbed Sabarmati riverfront. There are cardboard cutouts of Modi and Trump and digital hoardings all over.
“There is a lot of excitement around this visit. Trips such as this put Ahmedabad at the forefront,” said Aditi Chaudhary, a 20-year-old student. “We feel proud when such visits happen. There is a lot of excitement in the air. It will be watched by people in the US. I agree the amount that is being spent could be put to better use but sometimes such expenditures take place.”
The preparations seem to be complete, with the Gujarat government priding itself on getting ready for such a grand show without any last-minute hiccups. A giant billboard with Donald Trump, Melania Trump and Modi has been erected across the bank of the river, where flower arrangements with a Namaste Trump poster have also been put up.
This will be the first time that a US president will visit the Sabarmati Ashram, a former home of Mahatma Gandhi.
Namaste Trump, the showpiece event organized by the little-known Donald Trump Nagarik Abhivadan Samiti, will feature Modi and Trump addressing the gathering at the Motera stadium, billed the world’s largest cricket stadium with a capacity of more than 110,000. The event will be along the lines of the one organized for Modi by Indian Americans in Houston last year.
The Trumps are set to arrive in India on Monday on a 36-hour trip that will see them visiting Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi. It is Trump’s first presidential visit to India and the fifth official visit by a serving US president to the country since 2000. In contrast, between 1947 and 2000, India saw only three such visits.
From controversies ranging from the concrete wall that will hide the Saraniyavaas slum on the road connecting the airport to Indira Bridge, to the Donald Trump Nagarik Abhivadan Samiti, there are mixed feelings among city residents. Trump’s statement against India before leaving for the trip hasn’t helped.
“Even as Gujarat sends the maximum numbers of NRIs to the US, the visa regime has become very strict. We do understand what this visit means for Trump given our diaspora’s numbers in the US in the wake of the impending US presidential elections,” a scion of an old industrialist family in the city said on condition of anonymity.
Others, however, are effusive in their praise for their former chief minister, Modi, who has brought the dignitaries of the world to their very own Amdavad, as the residents of the city call it.
“Modiji is a source of pride not only for Gujarat but also for the whole of India,” said Jade Blue’s Bipin Chauhan, Modi’s go-to tailor in Ahmedabad credited with designing the Modi kurta and jacket.
India is looking forward to strengthen its strategic partnership with the US during Trump’s visit, with discussions likely to span bilateral, regional topics and global issues such as trade, strategic topics, counterterrorism and the India-Pacific region.