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Trump in Ahmedabad: Did Modi display servile colonial mindset towards gora sahib?

By Rajiv Shah
Donald Trump left Ahmedabad for Agra to "enjoy" the Mughal monument Taj Mahel in the afternoon on Monday, leaving behind scores of huge billboards standing across the megacity showcasing larger than life images of the US president and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, some of them boldly captioned: “Two strong leaders of two strong democracies”.
The overpowering billboards, on display along busy old city roads as well as the posh western Ahmedabad, stood in sharp contrast to a previous midnight swoop on city activists whom Gujarat police suspected would protest against the Trump-Modi 22-km-long roadshow from the Airport, where he landed at 11:30, to the newly-built Rs 800-crore cricket stadium at Motera, claimed to be the world’s largest.
One of them was Dev Desai, a city-based human rights activist who has been involved in organizing protests against the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (CAA). The Gujarat crime branch picked him up at 1.40 am as a “precautionary step” from his residence.
Desai was approached a day earlier to find out whether he was planning a protest during the Trump visit, and his reply was in the negative. Keen observers noticed how this stood in direct contrast to about 12,000 being allowed to line up and protest in the US against the Modi-Trump’s 50,000-strong NRI rally at Houston in September 2019.
Surely a direct commentary on whether to offer the epithet of “strong” to democracy in India under Modi, when clampdown on dissent – a regular feature in India today, unlike the US – was not the only feature in Ahmedabad, sought to be projected as a “model” city not only for the rest of India but also world leaders like Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jiping, and now Donald Trump.
Abe and Jiping visited Ahmedabad in September 2017 and September 2014, respectively, and on both the occasions, slums along the route which they took to Sabarmati Ashram were meticulously hid with long green curtains.
If Abe’s and Jiping’s huge “welcoming” billboards with Modi found their space outside the Mahatma’s karmabhoomi in Ahmedabad, this time the Ashram gates had larger than size Modi and Trump cut-outs.
A keen citizen, who took the photographs of the Ashram a day ahead of the Trump visit, said, “The cut-outs hid Gandhi... The entire Ashram was converted into a police camp.” On the Sabarmati riverside of the Ashram, too, a huge “Namaste Trump” display was put up, and surrounding it was temporary garden full of flowers.
During the Ashram visit, Modi was seen explaining everything on Gandhi to Trump, while Kartikeya Sarabhai, Ashram director, was kept on at an arm’s length. All that one could see was Kartikeya, who happens to be the illustrious son of Father of India’s Space Mission, Vikram Sarabhai, shaking hands with Modi on the arrival of the two leaders, and later having around 25 seconds tete-e-tete with Trump, who spent 25 minute at the Ashram.
Trump's remark on Visitor Diary
After the visit, citizens noticed, at the Sabarmati Ashram, Trump’s message in the Visitor Book said, “To my great friend Prime Minister Modi. Thank you for this wonderful visit”. There was no tribute to Gandhi or his ideals.
While the route from the Airport to Motera stadium, which stands between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, was decorated all through, flower pots put everywhere, even trees were not spared, and billboards showcased Modi-Trump side by side dotted everywhere, this time the long green curtains put up during Abe’s and Xi’s visits were replaced with a controversial concrete wall, painted with “Namaste Trump” slogans in order to hide the poverty behind.
Ordinary Ahmedabad citizens didn’t appear convinced with the city municipal commissioner’s argument that the decision to build the wall was taken 45 days earlier in order to ensure “smooth” movement of traffic along the road to the airport.
The wall hid the 750 Saranya Vas houses, which were regularised by Indira Gandhi following her visit to the informal settlement in early 1970s. Even today, elders of the Saranya Vas, who belong to a denotified tribe, recall how Indira Gandhi came up to the area, spent around 40 minutes, talked with residents, and gave instructions to the Ahmedabad district collector to regularise the land on which they lived and allow them to construct their houses.
The students were told not to wear black dress, as black 'signified' evil omen, and would be seen as a form of protest against the gora saheb
Several of the residents have displayed photographs of Indira Gandhi on the wall along with those of gods and goddesses. Ironically, however, despite Modi’s much publicised efforts to turn Ahmedabad into a model city since 2001, when he came to power in Gujarat, the regularised slum has open gutters on its streets, there is a huge scarcity of drinking water even though Sabarmati riverfront brimmed with Narmada water, as also the Narmada canal, are not very far away.
Youths here are semi-literate and unemployed, and there are a large number of school dropout among children, especially. A senior Gujarat-based senior journalist and blogger, RK Misra, commenting on the six feet tall wall found it appropriate to compare it with the US president’s 576- mile wall costing $20 million a mile to fence off his country from Mexico in order to keep away poor “illegal” migrants from crossing the border.

2,200 State Transport buses diverted to transport crowd

Indeed, this was perhaps the most controversial visit by a foreign dignitary to Ahmedabad, suggesting the level to which India’s current dispensation stoopded to please the world’s most powerful leader.
Smelling of servile colonial mindset, around 2,200 State Transport (ST) buses were taken away from their regular routes stranding ordinary passengers, to bring in the crowd, including college students and faculty, from as many as 22 Gujarat districts to witness Trump. The district collectors were given targets, who in turn put institute heads, NSS and NCC corps to do the needful.
A senior faculty of a high-profile Gujarat university, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Our institute was given the target of 2,000 students, for which 50 ST buses were deployed. Senior like us were to be taken to Motera stadium in a special bus, set aside for us, all of it at government expense."
However, he added, "Many students and the faculty backed out on learning that they would have to reach the stadium between 9 and 10 am, with Trump reaching there at 1:30 pm. Worse, we were told, we would be distributed food packets – consisting of four thin theplas (methi roti), chile and gud – not before 3:00 pm, after Trump and Modi leave.”
People leave Motera stadium even as Trump was speaking
Six of Ahmedabad’s top colleges were given specific targets, with authorities of the LD Engineering College, considered one of the best of government institutes, asked to bring 1,500 students to the stadium in ST buses allocated to them. The state-owned RC Technical College, which offers diploma courses, was also asked to bring 1,500 students.
The students were specifically told not to wear black dress, as black, in the eyes of the authorities, signified evil omen, and would be seen as a form of protest against the gora saheb. Those reaching the Motera stadium, after disembarking the ST buses, had to walk long distances in order reach the destination.
The entire effort of Modi, who at the Houston rally in US created a flutter by declaring “Abki baar Trump sarkar”, was to further politically help Trump, whose rating is at the lowest ebb, and send a message to the NRIs as also Americans on how popular he is abroad.
An average of four different opinion polls in February – YouGov, Pulse Opinion Research, American Research Group and Ipsos – suggests that 52% disapprove of him, while 43% approve of him. A keep political observer said, “The government, both the Central and state, pulled out all stops to ensure a one of its kind experience to Trump in his re-election year.”
During their speeches at Motera, which they gave through bullet proof glasses, the two leaders spoke at length on great personal friendship both have developed between them. While Trump praised India for becoming a close military partner of US, announcing a $3 billion worth of defence deal with India to supply military helicopters and defence system, he admitted the trade negotiations were at an “initial stage” as Modi was proving to be “tough”.
There was a huge applause when Trump spoke against need to join forces against “Islamic terrorism”, but a pin drop silence when he claimed he had successfully worked with Pakistan, which he found was “positive” in the effort to fight terrorism.
The two leaders appeared to feed into each other’s ego, with Trump’s narrative focusing on great developmental strides, including removal of poverty, under Modi, but insisted on the need for India to get the economy rid of its barriers in order make more progress.
Even as Trump was speaking, crowd started moving out, tired of sitting since morning, with “Namaste Trump” caps and milk tetra packs they were given at the Motera stadium in their hand.
Meanwhile, keen observers noted how women were forced to defecate in the open after President Donald Trump's convoy passes near Motera village due to lack of mobile toilets. At the airport, passengers were asked to five to six hours early in order to embark plane to avoid roads closure due to Trump visit.
As Trump was speaking, crowd started moving out, tired of sitting since morning, with Namaste Trump caps and milk tetra packs in hand
While the three hour visit cost government coffers around Rs 120 crore, or Rs 1 lakh per second, there were those whon were made to work “voluntarily.” BJP’s Ahmedabad municipal corporators did all they could to bring in around 50,000 or more people to greet Trump during his roadshow. They were told, their tickets for the forthcoming Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) elections, to be held late this year, would depend on how many people they would bring to “greet” Trump.
In all, around 1 lakh people greeted the gora saheb, who was sitting in his bullet proof limousine with Modi, along the 22-km-long road to the Motera stadium, while a little more than 1 lakh were brought in inside the stadium following a US security-sponsored security check. This was in complete contrast to Trump, quoting Modi, stating that 5 to 7 million people would greet him in Ahmedabad– a figure he later “upgraded” to 10 million.
Trump’s use of a word “covfefe” in a tweet three years ago appeared to mark the arrangements made for his visit in Ahmedabad. On May 31, 2017, the President had baffled his followers by tweeting at 12.06am: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe...” Six hours later, he replaced it with a tweet: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!”
A Ministry of External Affairs official feigned ignorance last week as to how much amount was being spent and by whom for Trump’s three-hour extravaganza. The spokesperson said, this question should be addressed to the Donald Trump Nagrik Abhinandan Samiti, “formed” to felicitate the Trump visit.
None in Ahmedabad knew where this Samiti was, nor was there any knowledge of those who are its in charge. Authorities went into a huddle, and “appointed” Ahmedabad mayor Bijal Patel as its chairperson.
On February 22, the Samiti met, in which apart from Bijal Patel, its “members”, two BJP MPs Kirit Sonaki and Hasmukh Patel, well-known architect BV Doshi, Gujarat chamber of commerce chief Durgesh Buch and Gujarat University vice-chancellor Himanshu Pandya participated. Two of the members – litterateur Bhikhudan Gadhvi and Gujarat Technical University vice-chancellor Dr Navin Sheth – couldn’t attend.
The meeting ended in 10 minutes. Meanwhile, word spread in Gujarat Sachivalaya that top tycoons, who were sent invitations for the Motera show – Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, Kumarmangalam Birla, Gautam Adani, Sudhir Mehta, AM Naik, Pankaj Patel – may have been asked to fund the Trump visit in order to avoid a future negative vigilance remark.
The situation became embarrassing for Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, who became an object of ridicule when the high-profile American security refused to include him in the Modi-Trump convoy from the airport to the Motera stadium.
The matter reached the Modi darbar, following which Rupani was “allowed in”. He could be seen among the half-a-dozen present to welcome Trump at the airport. He was made to clarify that not the Samiti or anyone else but the Gujarat government would bear all the costs of the Trump visit in Ahmedabad.
A similar ‘covfefe’ prevailed with regard to Trump’s visit to Sabarmati Ashram. First it was declared he would visit. Then, the word spread that he wouldn’t. Several reasons for this were floated: That he needed to spend "more time” at Taj Mahal in Agra, where he departed from Ahmedabad; that he would, in any case, be visiting Rajghat in Delhi; that his limousine wouldn’t be able to enter the Sabarmati Ashram gates, which had “too space”; and that his wife Melania Trump, with her high heel sandals, wouldn’t be able to walk on the “rough” Gandhi Ashram grounds.
All the beautification of the Ashram came to a standstill. This, there is reason to suspect, puzzled Modi, who is trying hard to appropriate Gandhi through his Swacch India mission. Following intervention from the highest level, Trump agreed to spend a “short time” at the Ashram.
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A version of this article was first published in National Herald in two parts. Click here and here

Comments

Anonymous said…
Nothing you have described in this article surprises me. It is so typical of Modi--he is a great showman--not to care about our own people but kowtow to foreigners.

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