- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2020

NEW DELHI, India — President Trump is likely to see some of the biggest crowds of his presidency when he arrives in India on Monday for a two-day visit.

Even before he left U.S. airspace Sunday, the president who’s known for his attention to crowd size was predicting a throng of as many as 10 million people would greet him.

Mr. Trump said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was forecasting such a turnout. That was up from the president’s earlier estimate of 5 million.

SEE ALSO: Modi, India drop $14 million on Trump extravaganza

“I hear it’s going to be a big event,” the president said Sunday as he departed the White House. “Some people say the biggest event they’ve ever had in India.”

The Hindustan Times, quoting an Indian government official, said the turnout was more likely to be less than 250,000 on the streets of Ahmedabad, which has an estimated population of 7 million.

The president retweeted a video clip from the popular Indian action movie “Baahubali,” showing his face superimposed on the title character rampaging in a war to bring peace to his kingdom. The president said he is looking forward to being “with my great friends in India.”

Workers were busy sprucing up the city along the president’s planned motorcade route for a welcome being billed as “Namaste Trump!” It’s India’s equivalent of a rally last year for Mr. Modi in Houston, Texas, called “Howdy Modi!” Mr. Trump joined the Indian leader at that event, and the trip will be another display of their personal bond.

The president’s arrival will culminate with an appearance at the Motera cricket stadium, the largest in the world with a capacity of up to 120,000 people. The president and first lady Melania Trump also will visit the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Mr. Trump is expected to conclude some arms deals with India on the trip, but administration officials are downplaying the possibility of reaching even a modest trade agreement after years of effort.

“We do want to make sure that we get this balance right,” a senior administration official said. “We want to address a lot of concerns, and we’re not quite there yet. We will likely have a discussion with the prime minister about these concerns and continue the discussion beyond this visit.”

Rameshwar Singh, 41-year-old businessman in the north Indian town of Patna, hoped that Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi would discuss trade relations. India’s economy surged when Mr. Modi’s pro-business administration assumed power in 2014, but growth has slowed recently.

Trump is a powerful man,” Mr. Singh said. “India needs good business from the U.S. Trump should endorse that.”

Mr. Singh added that Mr. Trump might gain personally from the visit as well.

“If he embraces Modi government’s stance towards Muslim immigrants and Pakistan-sponsored terror, I believe many American Hindus will vote for him in U.S. election,” said Mr. Singh. “Modi will like him even more.”

In New Delhi, Mr. Trump will likely sign deals with Mr. Modi for military helicopters worth a total of $6 billion. Their meeting will also include their concerns about China’s “belt and road” initiative for global development.

A senior administration official said Mr. Trump will likely raise concerns with Mr. Modi about a new Indian law that uses religion as a criterion for determining whether illegal immigrants can be fast-tracked for citizenship.

Enacted last year, the Citizenship Amendment Act gives preferential treatment to Afghan, Bangladeshi and Pakistani migrants who are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and other religions. The law does not give the same treatment to Muslims, however. The law comes at a time when critics claim that Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalism has created a climate that’s permissive of discrimination and violence against Muslims.

Many of India’s 200 million Muslims fear that the law could be used to strip them of citizenship and few see much good coming from Mr. Trump’s visit.

“Trump’s coming to India will only strengthen Modi’s anti-Muslim tone,” said Mohammad Sajjad, a historian at Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh in northern India.

Mr. Sajjad pointed to the controversial citizenship law as one example of how Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump are likely to have a meeting of the minds that bodes ill for India’s Muslims, the largest religious minority in the predominantly Hindu nation of almost 1.4 billion people.

Trump is anti-immigrant,” said Mr. Sajjad. “So is Modi.”

Nusrat Jahan, 28, has been among protesters who have been demonstrating against the citizenship law in the capital of New Delhi since late last year. He hoped the American president would discuss the law with the prime minister in private, but wasn’t holding his breath for any substantive changes.

“I don’t believe that Trump would say anything publicly over the citizenship law,” she said. “Even if he asks Modi to change the stance, Modi will not listen to it.”

The senior administration official said the president is concerned about the rights of people of all religions.

“The president will talk about these issues in his meetings with Prime Minister Modi and note that the world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions, respect for religious minorities,” the senior official said.

Jeff Smith, a specialist on Asia at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Trump and his advisers “are also expected to raise the issue of 5G technology with India and air their concerns about the risks posed by ‘untrusted vendors’ like Chinese telecom firm Huawei in 5G networks.”

“While India has allowed Huawei to participate in 5G test trials, it has signaled it’s in no rush to make a final decision on building out its 5G infrastructure,” he wrote in a blog post. “Notably, Indian security agencies were raising alarms about the espionage concerns posed by Huawei over a decade ago, before most of their Western counterparts.”

⦁ Dave Boyer reported from Washington.

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