India rolls out cultural extravaganza to welcome Trump

India rolls out cultural extravaganza to welcome Trump

Children wave US and Indian flags as they welcome US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during a roadshow in Ahmedabad, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. Trump is on a two-day visit to India. (PTI Photo)

Donald Trump landed here on Monday for his first visit to India as US President to a grand welcome by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and thousands of people who lined the streets and packed into the Motera stadium to say "Namaste Trump".

There were tableaux, folk dancers and musicians rolling out the cultural tapestry that is India, at the airport, on the way and at the spanking new cricket stadium where about 100,000 people waited patiently since early in the morning to hear the two leaders speak.

Air Force One carrying Trump, his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner landed at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel international airport here at 11.37 am, officials said. It was scheduled to land at 11.40 am.

Trump stepped out wearing a black suit and a buttercup yellow tie while the first lady was in a white jumpsuit by French-American costume designer Herve Pierre. In a hat tip to Indian textiles, the jumpsuit was paired with a green silk with gold thread embroidery discovered by the designer in an early 20th century Indian textile documents given to him by his friends.

Modi, who reached Ahmedabad about an hour before Trump did, welcomed Trump and the US first lady at the airport, hugging the president and warmly shaking hands with Melania.

The first stop in the Trump visit was the Sabarmati Ashram, home to Mahatma Gandhi between 1917 and 1930 during India's freedom struggle.

The 22-km 'India roadshow' began as the cavalcade, with the US president's gleaming black car that has earned the moniker 'The Beast', moved out of the airport towards the Ashram and then to stadium. About 50 stages were set up on the way, showcasing dance groups and singers from different parts of the country.

Over 10,000 police personnel, besides officials of the United States Secret Service, and personnel of the National Security Guards (NSG) and the Special Protection Group (SPG) were deployed for the high profile visit.

From colour and pageantry to quieter and reflective, the mood shifted somewhat at the Sabarmati Ashram where the US president and the first lady spent about 15 minutes.

Modi, who reached the Ashram a few minutes before the visiting dignitaries, showed the Trumps 'Hriday Kunj', a room inside the Ashram where Gandhi and his wife Kasturba lived.

Modi explained the importance of the place in India's freedom struggle.

Trump and Melania tried their hands on the khadi spinning wheel, also known as the 'charkha'.

"To my great friend Prime Minister Modi - Thank you for this wonderful visit," Trump wrote in the visitors book. It was also signed by Melania.

Modi presented the "Three Wise Monkeys", signifying Gandhi's three maxims of 'see no evil', 'hear no evil' and 'speak no evil', as a memento to the US president.

After the Ashram, Trump and Modi resumed their roadshow till Motera stadium, the stage for the "Namaste Trump" event that saw a cultural extravaganza and addresses by the two leaders.

The stadium was packed to the rafters, a sea of colour and white with many in the crowd wearing white caps.

Billboards with slogans hailing Indo-US relations and giant cutouts of Trump and Modi as well as photographs of the two leaders waving at the crowd during the 'Howdy Modi' event in Houston last year. Also put up along the road were replicas of historic places in Gujarat.

The seventh US president to visit India, Trump on Sunday retweeted a video in which his face was superimposed on the hit Indian movie-character "Baahubali", showing him as a great saviour.

Commenting on the Trump visit, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted that this is the first stand-alone visit by a US president to India, exemplifying a historic relationship that has matured into a 21-century global partnership.

The bonhomie, so much in evidence during the day, began from the air itself.

"We are eager to visit India. We are on our way and will soon be meeting all," Trump tweeted in Hindi from on board the special Air Force One aircraft.

Modi replied shortly after, saying "Atithi Devo Bhava", or "the guest is god".

From Ahmedabad, the first stop on their 36-hour India visit, the Trumps travelled to Agra and then to New Delhi on Monday evening.

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