Trump in India: a brief history of the travels of American presidents

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and President of the United States, Donald Trump, shake hands as they speak during a bilateral meeting in Biarritz, in southwestern France, on August 26, 2019.

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Trump is making his first official visit to India

The president of the United States, Donald Trump, expects a raucous welcome on his first official state visit to India on Monday and Tuesday.

Follow a long line of leaders who have made the trip. Some of his predecessors were enthusiastically received; others stumbled upon diplomatic mistakes; One even had a town that bears his name.

Can history be a guide on how this diplomatic appointment could go? Here is a brief look at past visits, ranked in order of how they were.

The good…

Let’s start at the beginning.

Dwight D Eisenhower, the first president of the USA UU. Who visited India, he was greeted with a greeting of 21 guns when he landed in the national capital, Delhi, in December 1959. Large crowds lined the streets to take a look at the hero of the Second World War in his convertible car: Trump expects a similar reception in the city of Ahmedabad, where he will hold a road show.

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Dwight D Eisenhower, photographed with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first president of the United States to make the trip

The warmth between him and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru helped during what was a difficult phase in the ties between the United States and India. This was at the beginning of the Cold War, when the United States and Pakistan became close allies, and India insisted on staying neutral or “not aligned.” As today, relations with China were at the center of the India-United States equation, with Washington pressing Delhi to adopt an aggressive stance with Beijing on the issue of Tibet.

But overall, Eisenhower’s four-day trip was considered a success. And almost all American presidents on a state visit to India have emulated their itinerary: he deposited flowers in the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, saw the splendor of the Taj Mahal, addressed the parliament and spoke on the emblematic grounds of Ramlila in Delhi, which, according to a press report, attracted a million people.

When he left, Nehru said he had taken “a piece of our heart.”

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President Eisenhower was received by large crowds.

If there was a visit that changed the game, it would be that of Bill Clinton in March 2000 with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Clinton’s arrival came after a two-decade break, neither Ronald Reagan nor George Bush Snr made the trip east. It came at a difficult time, as Washington had imposed sanctions on Delhi after its 1999 test of a nuclear bomb.

But, according to Navtej Sarna, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, the five-day trip was “a joyful visit.” It included stops in Hyderabad, a southern city that was becoming a technology center, and Mumbai, the financial capital of India. “He came and saw the economic and cybernetic potential of India, and democracy in action,” says Sarna.

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Bill Clinton’s visit was described as “cheerful”

Clinton also danced with villagers, took a tiger safari and tasted the famous creamy black dal of Delhi (lentils) in a luxury hotel that has since partnered with the president.

Perhaps the reaction of the country is best expressed in this headline of the New York Times: “Clinton Fever: an enchanted India has all the symptoms.”

George W. Bush, as Forbes magazine said, was the “best president of the United States that India has ever had.” His three-day visit in March 2006 was a highlight in the strategic relationship of the two countries, especially in matters of trade and nuclear technology, issues that have long been discussed. It was difficult to overlook his strong personal dynamic with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: after leaving office, Bush, an enthusiastic artist, even painted a portrait of Singh.

The two leaders are credited for a historic but controversial nuclear agreement, which was signed during Bush’s visit. He took India, which for decades had refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), out of isolation. India, hungry for energy, had access to American civil nuclear technology in exchange for opening its nuclear facilities for inspection.

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George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh had a very good relationship.

However, while the visit was substantive, it was not as spectacular as others: there was no trip to the Taj or a speech in parliament. But the moment was important. The anti-US sentiment about the invasion of Iraq was intensifying: left-wing parliamentarians had organized a protest against Bush’s visit and there were demonstrations in other parts of India.

Barack Obama was the only president who made two official visits. First, in 2010 with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and then in 2015 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On his first visit, on a break from the past, he landed in Mumbai, instead of Delhi, with a large commercial delegation. It was not just economic ties, but a show of solidarity after the terrorist attacks of Mumbai in 2008, which killed 166 people. Mr. and Mrs. Obama even stayed at the Taj Mahal hotel, one of the main objectives.

It was significant that the president of the USA. UU. He will declare his support for India to join a reformed and expanded UN Security Council, says Alyssa Ayres, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of the United States for South Asia. “That all these years later, nothing has changed in the UN system is another matter, but that was an important policy change for the United States.”

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Barack Obama visited India twice

Obama returned in 2015 as a main guest at the celebrations of the Day of the Republic of India, at the invitation of Prime Minister Modi. Trade, defense and climate change were at the center of the talks. The trip also emphasized an Indo-Pacific strategy, where both leaders expressed concern over Beijing’s provocations in the South China Sea.

The not so good …

Although Jimmy Carter’s two-day visit in 1978 was a thaw in relations between India and the United States, it was not without problems.

With about 500 reporters in tow, Carter followed a crowded itinerary: he met with Prime Minister Morarji Desai, went to a joint session of parliament, went to the Taj Mahal and passed through a village just outside Delhi.

The village, Chuma Kheragaon, had a personal connection: Carter’s mother, Lillian, had visited here when she was in India as a member of the Peace Corps in the late 1960s. Then, when Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, made the trip, they gave money to the village and its first television. He was even renamed “Carterpuri”, a nickname he still retains.

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Jimmy Carter is received by the villagers of ‘Carterpuri’

But beyond the photo shoots, India and the United States were fighting. India was building its nuclear program and conducted its first test in 1974. The United States wanted India to sign the NPF, which sought to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. But India refused, saying the agreement discriminated against developing countries.

In a leaked conversation that made headlines and threatened to derail the visit, Carter promised his Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, a letter “very cold and very blunt” to Desai. The two leaders signed a declaration, promising greater global cooperation, but Carter left India without the guarantees he expected.

The ugly one…

Richard Nixon was no stranger to India when he arrived in August 1969 for a one-day state visit. He had been here as vice president in 1953, and before that on personal trips. But, to tell everyone, he was not a fan.

“Nixon did not like Indians in general and despised [Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi, “according to Gary Bass, author of Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide. And, he adds, it was said that the feeling was mutual.

This was also at the height of the Cold War, and India’s non-alignment policy “horrified” US presidents. Bass says that under Gandhi, India’s neutrality had become a “remarkably pro-Soviet foreign policy.”

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Richard Nixon greets the crowd with Mohammad Hidyatullah, interim president of India

The relationship only became more icy after the trip, as India backed Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in its struggle for independence from Pakistan, a close American ally. The differences were exposed when Gandhi visited the White House in 1971. The declassified cables of the state department later revealed that Nixon referred to her as an “old witch.”

… and the future

The United States and India have certainly had their ups and downs, but during the last official visit in 2015, Obama and Modi signed a declaration of friendship: “Chalein saath saath (let’s move forward together) …” he began.

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Obama and Modi signed a declaration of friendship in 2015

President Trump’s visit will take the relationship forward, but it is not clear how.

It is expected that his arrival in Ahmedabad, the main city in the home state of PM Modi, Gujarat, followed by a large event in the arena, will attract a massive crowd. It will echo the demonstration of President Eisenhower in Delhi years ago, perhaps strengthening personal ties between the two leaders.

But while Trump’s trip will be full of pageantry, it could be light in politics. Unlike other presidential visits, this agreement is not expected to conclude concrete agreements, since the trade agreement that Trump so much desires seems unlikely.

Follow Rajini on Twitter @BBCRajiniV

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