Midnight swoops and the wall: Donald Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad-I
Without doubt, this was perhaps the most controversial visit by a foreign dignitary, suggesting the level to which India’s current dispensation could stoop to please the world’s most powerful leader
‘Two strong leaders of two strong democracies’ emblazoned on billboards across Ahmedabad on Monday, long after the US President left after his three-and-a-half-hour sojourn, seemed to be mocking at the people looking up at them.
India did not look like a strong democracy on Sunday night when in a post-midnight swoop Gujarat Police arrested activists who they suspected could hold demonstrations during trump’s visit.
One of them was Dev Desai, a human rights activist. The Gujarat crime branch picked him up at 1.40 am from his residence. He had been approached a day earlier and asked if he planned a protest or demonstration and his reply was in the negative. But the police were clearly directed not to take chances.
This stood out in direct contrast to about 12,000 protestors allowed to line up and protest at Houston against Modi-Trump’s 50,000-strong ‘Howdy Modi’ NRI rally in September 2019. Which then is the stronger democracy?
Huge cutouts of the two leaders at the Sabarmati Ashram hid Gandhi, noted a perceptive observer, who also sardonically noted that the Ashram had been turned into a temporary police camp.
During the Ashram visit, Modi was seen explaining about Mahatma Gandhi to Trump, while Kartikeya Sarabhai, the Ashram director, was kept 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 arrival of the two “great” leaders, and later having a less than 25 seconds tete-e-tete with Trump, who spent 25 minutes at the Ashram.
Long, green curtains were put up during the visits of Shinzo Abe and XI Jin Ping to Ahmedabad in September 2017 and September 2014, respectively. The curtains were this time replaced by a controversial concrete wall, painted with “Namaste Trump” slogans in order to hide the poverty behind.
Ahmadavdis didn’t buy the explanation offered by the city municipal commissioner 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 irregular settlement in the early 1970s.
Even today, elders of the Saranya Vas residents, who belong to a denotified tribe, recall how Indira Gandhi came up to the area, spent around 40 minutes there, talking with the residents, and gave instructions to the Ahmedabad district collector to regularise the land on which they lived and allow them to construct their houses. Several of the residents still display photographs of Indira Gandhi on the wall along with those of gods and goddesses.
Despite Modi’s much-publicised efforts to turn Ahmedabad into a model city since 2001, when he came to power in Gujarat, the now 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.
The youth remain semi-literate, are unemployed, and there are school dropout children, especially girls, here. 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.
Without an iota of doubt, this was perhaps the most controversial visit by a foreign dignitary, suggesting the level to which India’s current dispensation could stoop to please the world’s most powerful leader.