Gujarat government to pick the tab for Trump’s visit, not citizens’ committee--II

The committee met for the first time and lasted all of 10 minutes. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani clarified that expenses for Trump’s three-hour visit, put at ₹1.20 crore would be borne by the state

Photo Courtesy: PTI
Photo Courtesy: PTI

Rajiv Shah

While the External Affairs Ministry last week had passed the buck to a citizens’ committee set up to felicitate the US President, when asked who would bear the expenses for the road show and spectacle at Motera, it has now been clarified that Gujarat Government would pick up the bill, estimated to be around Rs 120 Crore, which would come to one lakh of Rupees for every minute that the US President spent in Ahmedabad on Monday.

While nobody in Ahmedabad knew where this Samiti was or who were the members, red-faced officials went into a huddle and hurriedly did form a committee and “appointed” Ahmedabad Mayor Bijal Patel as its chairperson.

The committee met barely two days before the Presidential visit on February 22. Among those who attended were Bijal Patel, two BJP MPs Kirit Solanki and Hasmukh Patel, well-known architect BV Doshi, Gujarat chamber of commerce chief Durgesh Buch and Gujarat University vice-chancellor Himanshu Pandya. Two other members – litterateur Bhikhudan Gadhvi and Gujarat Technical University vice-chancellor Dr Navin Sheth – couldn’t attend. The meeting ended in 10 minutes.

Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani became an object of ridicule when high-profile US 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 finally “allowed in”. An embarrassed Rupani was also forced to clarify that not the Samiti or anyone else but the Gujarat government would bear all the costs of the Trump visit to Ahmedabad.

Smelling of a servile colonial mindset, around 2,200 State Transport (ST) buses were withdrawn from regular routes, stranding regular passengers, to bring in the crowd, to the Motera on Monday. College students and faculty members from as many as 22 Gujarat districts were brought in to attend the event and serenade Trump. District collectors were given targets and they in turn put institute heads, NSS and NCC corps to do the needful.

A senior faculty member of a high-profile Gujarat university, said, “We were given a target of 2,000 students and 50 ST buses were placed at our disposal. Senior faculty members like us were to be taken to Motera stadium in a special bus, all of it at government expense.”

“However, 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), chilli and jaggery – but not before 3:00 pm, when Trump and Modi leave.”

Six of Ahmedabad’s top colleges were given specific targets, with LD Engineering College, considered one of the best government institutes, asked to collect 1,500 students and to bring them all to the stadium.

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 and could be seen as a form of protest against the gora saheb. Those reaching the Motera stadium sulked because, after disembarking the ST buses, had to walk long distances in order to 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 back home.

An average of four different opinion polls in February – YouGov, Pulse Opinion Research, American Research Group and Ipsos – suggests that 52% of Americans disapprove of him, while 43% approve of him. A keen political observer said, “The government, both the Central and state, pulled out all stops to ensure one of its kind experience to Trump in his re-election year.”

During their speeches at Motera, the two leaders spoke at length on their great personal friendship. 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 huge applause when Trump spoke against need to join forces against “Islamic terrorism”, but pin drop silence when he said US 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, the crowd started moving out, tired of sitting since morning, with “Namaste Trump” caps and milk tetra packs they were given. In the absence of mobile toilets, even women were forced to defecate in the open after President Trump's cavalcade passed the Motera village. At the airport, passengers were asked to reach five to six hours early in order to embark plane to avoid road closures due to Trump visit.

While the three-hour visit cost government coffers around Rs 120 crore, or Rs one lakh per second, there were those who worked “voluntarily.”

BJP controlled Ahmedabad municipal corporators did all they could to bring in around 50,000 or more people to greet Trump during his roadshow. They were made to understand, their tickets for the forthcoming Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) elections, to be held later this year, would depend on how many people they would bring to “greet” Trump.

In all, around one lakh people greeted the gora saheb along the 22-km-long road to the Motera stadium, while a little more than one lakh were brought inside the stadium following a US security-sponsored security check.

A similar confusion prevailed with regard to Trump’s visit to Sabarmati Ashram. First it was declared he would visit the Ashram. 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; 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 little space”; and that his wife Melania Trump, with her high heel sandals, wouldn’t be able to walk on the “rough” Gandhi Ashram grounds.

Eventually, following intervention from the highest level, Americans agreed to allow POTUS to spend a “short time” at the Ashram.

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