US President Donald Trump is expected to start a three-day visit to India with a February 23 event in Ahmedabad, an Indian version of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Howdy Modi” show in Houston that will be considerably bigger, before going on to Delhi and Agra, which will be his last stop before he heads home, according to people close to discussions for the trip.
A trade deal is expected to be the crowning achievement of the visit, and the two sides are trying to have it ready by then, but the people familiar with the discussions insisted that the visit was not tied to the deal, and that it will go ahead even if an agreement is not reached by then.
But every effort is being made to resolve issues standing in the way, especially last-minute demands from the American side. US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, President Trump’s tough chief trade negotiator who has struck up a relationship with commerce minister Piyush Goyal over several meetings and phone calls, is expected to visit India next week to resolve those differences, according to the people.
US President Trump is most enthusiastic about the rally in Ahmedabad. He had, in fact, asked for it specifically, according to these people involved with the planning, impressed by the “Howdy Modi” event he addressed with Prime Minister Modi in Houston last September, which was attended by an estimated 50,000 people.
The US President is looking at the rally as a way to boost his pitch to Gujaratis in the United States, and try to draw the larger Indian-American community away from the Democratic party.
Most Indian-descent Americans vote for the Democratic party, but there has been a small yet perceptible shift towards Republicans in recent years, and 14% of them voted Republican in 2016.
President Trump made his first pitch to the community in 2016, when he became the first presidential candidate of a major US political party to address a political rally exclusively for Indian-Americans, in Edison, New Jersey.
People familiar with the White House’s thinking on the visit said the President has an eye on the Indian-American community with a special focus on New Jersey, a familiar ground for him since the 2016 outreach, and Texas, the two states have the largest population of Indian-Americans after California and New York, the two most Democratic of all US states.
Trump will reach New Delhi for a full day of meetings on February 24, and stay overnight. It could not be immediately ascertained if, when in New Delhi, Trump will address Indian Parliament like his predecessors Dwight Eisenhower in 1959, Bill Clinton in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2010.
In New Delhi, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi could announce the conclusion of a trade deal as the high point of the visit. If negotiations remain inconclusive, they could shift focus on other deliverables such as defence purchases worth an estimated $ 3 billion, of additional Apache helicopters and P8 maritime surveillance planes.
An announcement is expected shortly of the President’s itinerary and engagements in India. But people familiar with the planning said after staying overnight in New Delhi, Trump will leave for Agra on February 24 to visit the Taj Mahal, a must-see for most visiting world leaders, and will leave for home after that.
The official announcement will also specify cabinet officials and other aides who will accompany the President and one of the most anticipated of names will be that of Ivanka Trump, the President’s eldest daughter and adviser, who is emerging as the key White House figure on relations with India.
Trump first named her to lead the US delegation to the first Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a US initiative, held outside the United States, in Hyderabad in 2018.