What is on Donald Trump’s agenda in India?

US president is making his first official trip to the world’s most populous democracy

Modi and Trump
Modi and Trump at ‘Namaste Trump’ event in Ahmedabad
(Image credit: Getty Images)

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rolled out the red carpet for a two-day state visit by Donald Trump that is set to be packed with pomp and circumstance.

After flying into Ahmedabad city with First Lady Melania Trump on Monday morning, the US president was greeted by a cheering crowd of more than 100,000 people at a “Namaste Trump” (“Hello Trump”) rally - designed to mirror the “Howdy Modi” event that welcomed the Indian PM during a visit to Texas last September, USA Today reports.

Addressing the crowd at the new Motera Cricket Stadium in Gujarat, Trump declared that he had travelled 8,000 miles to deliver the message that “America loves India, America respects India and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people”, according to Time magazine.

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But with US-India trade relations under strain and both leaders facing domestic crises, what is at stake as Trump begins his whirlwind tour?

What is on the agenda?

NBC News says that Modi had “promised that adoring, and carefully arranged, crowds” would turn out as Trump’s motorcade moved through Ahmedabad - the home town of both Modi and Mahatma Gandhi.

The US president and first lady are also due to visit the city of Agra, for a trip to the Taj Mahal, before moving on to capital New Delhi, where they will spend the night.

Tuesday’s agenda will reportedly include more ceremonial events and a meeting with Indian business leaders as part of a CEO roundtable at the US embassy.

Trump with also meet his Indian counterpart, Ram Nath Kovind, at the presidential palace, known as the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

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What other functions will the trip serve?

Trump’s visit is “not just about theatrics”, with India and the US “looking at signing pacts in areas of intellectual property rights, defence deals, nuclear power cooperation and homeland security”, says Business Today.

A key moment on the agenda is the expected signing of a $2.6bn (£2bn) deal for India to buy 24 Seahawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin - a purchase that will “take the total value of US arms exports to India to nearly $20bn [£15.5bn], up from virtually zero two-way defence trade 12 years ago”, adds the South China Morning Post.

Trump and Modi are also expected to finalise a deal for US energy company Westinghouse to build six nuclear reactors in India.

The trip serves an equally important function as a show of friendship between two nations. The two leaders have both pushed nationalistic and isolationist policy agendas during the terms in office, with trade deals becoming a point of contention between Delhi and Washington.

In addition, both leaders have been embroiled in domestic scandals in recent months, and a deepening of ties between the two superpowers could help boost their images on the world stage after a difficult 2019. That could prove very welcome to Trump, as he begins his re-election campaign in the wake of a damaging impeachment trial.

Meanwhile, Modi has faced criticism over his poor handling of India’s economy, amid rising unemployment, and over his policy on Kashmir and a controversial law that fast-tracks citizenship to non-Muslim religious minorities from three neighbouring countries.

“It will be a political boost and a good news story for him,” Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project, told the BBC. “He will be seen in visuals standing with the most powerful leader of the world, so to speak.”

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