“We’re doing a very big trade deal with India. We’ll have it. I don’t know if it’ll be done before the election, but we’ll have a very big deal with India,” Trump told reporters at an airbase outside Washington DC as he flew out west for a series of domestic events next three days before he heads out to India on Saturday.
Trump, who has dubbed India “tariff king” among other epithets, complained again that the US is “not treated very well by India” but said “I happen to like Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi a lot”. Modi, the US President said, bringing in his expectations of a grand spectacle, had told him there will 7 million people between the airport and the Motera stadium the two are expected to inaugurate.
“The stadium, I understand, is sort of semi under construction, but it’s going to be the largest stadium in the world. So it’s going to be very exciting. But he says between the stadium and the airport, we’ll have about 7 million people. So it’s going to be very exciting. I hope you all enjoy it,” Trump said.
The President’s remarks virtually confirmed that there will at best be a modest outcome of deliverables from the visit, and at the very least, he hopes for a grand spectacle that will impress his constituents back home.
The Indian side too has virtually confirmed that an overarching trade deal is not going to happen given the US insistence on India opening up its vulnerable farm and dairy sector and other contentious issues that the two sides have been unable to resolve despite months of negotiations.
But as far as New Delhi is concerned, even the optics of the visit is strategically significant: Not only is the US President — accompanied by the First Lady — making a stand-alone state visit (something Trump has rarely done in the three-plus years he has been in office), but just the act of flying all the way to India and back is an expression of US political and diplomatic support for India at a time New Delhi is in the international spotlight for a series of tough decisions ranging from dismantling the status quo in Kashmir to domestic laws relating to citizenship, not to speak of emphasising India’s role as a bulwark against China’s expansionism.
The Trump administration has been conspicuously taciturn in remarks about India’s domestic issues even though at every given opportunity the President piles it on to India when it comes to trade and tariffs. It remains to be seen whether a grand spectacle in Ahmedabad, about which Trump appears to have hyperbolic expectations, will mollify his intense desire to advance US interests at the expense of all else.
As things stand, Trump is expected to arrive directly in Ahmedabad for the grand road-and-stadium show on Monday before heading north to Delhi. The President and the First Lady are expected to stopover in Agra for a quick look and a photo-op at the Taj Mahal – the world’s most enduring love monument whose name Trump borrowed for one of his hotel casinos — before arriving in New Delhi on Monday night.
A ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, followed by talks and an official banquet at Hyderabad House will follow on Tuesday, interspersed with a business conference hosted by the US embassy.
Given the US President’s tempestuous nature, all plans are considered tentative and subject to change, but he is expected to leave New Delhi on Tuesday night after spending only one night in India.