UNITED NATIONS/NEW YORK – Move over Mahatma Gandhi. There’s a new ‘Father of India’, a modern unifying force, in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At least, as far as US President Donald Trump is concerned.
The startling, laudatory comment was made by Trump during his bilateral meeting with Modi on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, here in New York, on Tuesday, September 24, 2019.
“I remember India before (Modi’s government), not intimately, but I remember India before, it was very torn, it was a lot fighting and he brought it all together. Like a father would bring it together. Maybe he is the father of India. We will call him the father of India. He brought things together, you don’t hear that anymore,” Trump said to media persons at the bilateral meeting with Modi.
It was amply evident that Trump was mighty impressed with the ‘Howdy Modi’ rally in Houston, Texas, on Sunday, where he shared the stage with Modi at the NRG Stadium in front of a cheering crowd of 59,000 people, a mostly Indian-origin audience.
Trump repeatedly praised Modi at the bilateral meeting, equating him with the same charisma as rock star Elvis Presley for his ability to draw adoring crowds wherever he went.
“I have great respect, I have great admiration and I really like him. He is a great gentleman and a great leader,” Trump said, of Modi. “I think what the event showed that how much I like India and how much I like your prime minister.”
Trump added of the Houston meet, which seemed had left a deep impression on him because of the sheer enthusiasm of the crowd present: “There was a tremendous sprit in that room…those people loved this gentleman (PM Modi)… they went crazy. He is like an American version of Elvis.”
Although a much expected trade deal between India and the US was not announced after the meeting, Trump made it clear that the two countries were close to a mutual understanding on differences.
“We are doing very well … I think very soon we will have a trade deal,” Trump said, echoing what India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in a conversation with Kevin Rudd, president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, said earlier in the day, before he joined Modi and his delegation for the bilateral meeting, across town.
Jaishankar made it clear in that conversation at the Asia Society that he was encouraged rather than disappointed by the trade and tariffs ‘arguments’, rather than ‘disputes’ with the US – as he termed it – as it showed that the two countries were now more actively engaged in trade matters now than ever before.
Modi informed at the bilateral meeting that India signed an agreement, where Indian company Petronet invested $2.5 billion in the energy sector.
“In the years to come, this will result in a trade that will amount to $60 billion and create 50,000 jobs,” Modi reckoned.
Modi, who presented Trump with a huge framed photograph of them together on stage at the NRG Stadium, at the iconic ‘Howdy Modi’ event, at the bilateral meeting, was effusive in his praise of Trump too, reiterating what he said of Trump in Texas.
“I am thankful to Trump that he came to Houston. He is my friend but he is also a good friend of India,” Modi said.
In Houston, Modi termed Trump as an expert in the ‘art of the deal’, referring to the President’s new stand on trade issues with countries around the world, which is turning to America’s advantage.
“In the four months since our government came back, I have had the chance of meeting President Trump thrice and we have held detailed and fruitful discussions on different issues. The continuous engagement and closeness between the largest and oldest democracies is a great sign for a world that believes in democratic values,” Modi said.
Apart from trade, the issue of terrorism came up prominently for discussion at the bilateral meeting between Modi and Trump.
Trump made it amply clear he favored India regarding the Kashmir issue, and where he thought terror was emanating from in South Asia.
Trump was asked what he thought of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s controversial admission that the Pakistani ISI trained Al Qaeda. Trump responded to that by saying that “Prime Minister (Modi) will take care of it.”
“I think Prime Minister Modi gave a message to Pakistan loud and clear the other day (at the Howdy Modi meet in Houston). I am sure he will be able to handle that situation,” Trump said, referring to the threat of cross-border terrorism.
Trump also hoped that India and Pakistan can engage in bilateral talks, which Modi said he was willing to. Jaishankar was much more critical of Pakistan in his talk, terming that India can talk to Pakistan but “not to Terroristan”.
Jaishankar also had reiterated what Indian diplomats have repeatedly accused Pakistan of, at the United Nations, in the recent past, that the country was promoting terrorism and had made it an ‘industry’ of sorts.
“Pakistan is a country who has created an entire industry of terrorism…Now they will see that their investment of 70 years is undercut because of (India’s) policy change in Kashmir. We don’t have a problem talking to Pakistan. But we do have a problem talking to Terroristan,” said Jaishankar.
Trump hoped peace between India and Pakistan will occur sooner than later.
“I really believe that Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Khan will get along when they get to know each other, I think a lot of good things will come from that meeting,” Trump said.
Earlier in the day, Trump, in his speech at the General Assembly, made it clear that democracy to survive need strong action.
“The free world must embrace its national foundations. It must not attempt to erase them or replace them. Looking around this large magnificent planet, the truth is plain to see. If you want freedom, take pride in your country. If you want democracy, hold on to your sovereignty. If you want peace, love your nation,” he said.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)