Tens of thousands greet Trump in his first official visit to India; religious freedom on agenda

President Donald J. Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stand together on stage before a cheering crowd at the Namaste Trump Rally Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, India.
President Donald J. Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stand together on stage before a cheering crowd at the Namaste Trump Rally Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, India. | Official White House Photo/Shealah Craighead

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in the west Indian city of Ahmedabad Monday, beginning his first official visit to India with the inauguration of the world’s largest cricket stadium. In his two-day visit, Trump is expected to raise several issues, including religious freedom, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Accompanied by First Lady Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump addressed a gathering of about 100,000 people at the “Namaste Trump” event at the newly-built cricket stadium in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, the home state of Modi, Monday afternoon.

“All over the planet, people take great joy in scenes of bhangra, music, dance, romance and drama ... You cheer on great cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli,” Trump said to huge applause by the crowd. “This is the country that produces nearly 2,000 movies a year from the hub of genius and creativity known as Bollywood.”

While the focus of Trump’s visit appears to be a trade agreement with India, the U.S. President is likely to raise the issue of religious freedom as well, according to reports.

“Trump will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom both in his public remarks and then certainly in private,” a senior U.S. official said last week, according to The Economic Times. “He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration.”

Ever since Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took office as Prime Minister in 2014, persecution of Christians has risen.

“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” noted Open Doors World Watch List, which ranked India as the 10th worst country for Christians. “The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith—including Christianity—is viewed as non-Indian. Also, converts to Christianity from Hindu backgrounds or tribal religions are often extremely persecuted by their family members and communities.”

At least one Christian was attacked every day last year, according to Open Doors.

In his speech at the cricket stadium, Trump showered praises on Modi’s record in governance and mentioned that he is “tough.”

America’s trade relations with India have been tense since last June when the Trump administration revoked preferential trade privileges, after which New Delhi imposed tariffs on 28 U.S. products.

Although this is Trump’s first official visit to India, it's his ninth meeting with Modi.

Last September, Trump joined Modi in Houston’s NRG Stadium to address the “Howdy Modi” rally, attended by over 50,000 Indian-Americans. The gathering of 100,000 people for Trump was seen as a reciprocal gesture by Modi.

“India awaits your arrival @POTUS @realDonaldTrump! Your visit is definitely going to further strengthen the friendship between our nations,” Modi tweeted ahead of Trump’s visit.

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, only 16 percent of the roughly 4.5 million Indian Americans voted for Trump, according to the National Asian American Survey. 

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