Preparations Are Underway For Trump's 1st Official Visit To India

Feb 21, 2020
Originally published on March 4, 2020 7:07 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump will go to India next week. It's his first trip there as president. Last year, he hosted India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, at a big stadium rally in Texas. Next week, Modi returns the favor with a rally in the biggest city in Modi's home state of Gujarat. NPR's Lauren Frayer is there looking around.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The city of Ahmedabad is where India's freedom leader Mahatma Gandhi built his ashram, a place for prayer and communal living, on a riverbank lined with Indian lilac trees.

ATUL PANDYA: This is the place where he used to live.

FRAYER: So that's Gandhi's house there?

PANDYA: It's Gandhi's house.

FRAYER: Atul Pandya is the ashram's director.

PANDYA: Some of the major preaching which Gandhi used to tell about nonviolence, about communal harmony, was here.

FRAYER: A century after Gandhi lived and preached here, his ashram is now surrounded by busy highways, bridges and office buildings. The man who's credited with much of that development was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014. His name - Narendra Modi. And he's now India's prime minister. Modi wants to show Trump what political scientist Sharik Laliwala calls the Gujarat model of development.

SHARIK LALIWALA: Which is about infrastructure, which is about 24-hour power, which is about better roads, which is also about deregulations.

FRAYER: Gujarat's economy grew faster than the nation's in almost every year Modi was in power here. It was that track record, in large part, that got him elected nationally. But Modi also presided over a dark chapter of history here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: It was 2002. A train was set on fire in the city of Godhra.

FRAYER: In 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire east of Ahmedabad in an area with a large Muslim population. Fifty-nine Hindus were killed. Anti-Muslim riots erupted. More than a thousand Muslims are believed to have been killed, including Abeda Khan's husband and 3-year-old daughter.

ABEDA KHAN: (Through interpreter) From a balcony, I watched masked men throw Molotov cocktails at Muslim homes. I got separated from my husband and toddler. I spent hours hiding upstairs. The whole street was burning.

FRAYER: The then-chief minister, Modi, was accused of, at the very least, failing to halt the violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: First, our top story. For the first time in the history of independent India, a sitting chief minister, Narendra Modi, has been questioned on the role of his government in mass murders in connection...

FRAYER: Dozens of people went to prison. Modi himself was never put on trial and denies any wrongdoing. But allegations persisted. The U.S. refused to grant him a visa for years, until just before he became prime minister in 2014. In Gujarat, though, his power grew. The state became Modi's laboratory, analyst Laliwala says, for Hindu nationalism, the idea that India should be a Hindu nation.

LALIWALA: This is the first experiment in successfully establishing a Hindu nation because Muslims have not just been marginalized from politics and societies, there are laws.

FRAYER: Laws that critics say discriminated against Muslims. As prime minister, Modi has taken Hindu nationalism to the rest of the country with laws like the New Citizenship Act, which excludes Muslim refugees and has prompted nationwide protests in recent months. Here in Gujarat, though, Modi remains popular. I interviewed a medical student, Bhakti Vamja, on the riverfront promenade which Modi built.

BHAKTI VAMJA: He made infrastructure very well. He's a true leader. I feel proud of being a Gujarati. I belong to this very significant state of India, which is developing.

FRAYER: Development is what Modi wants to show Trump when he visits next week. Just north of here, they'll inaugurate a cricket stadium that's billed as the biggest in the world. But just south of here is where most of the city's Muslims live, segregated from Hindus and unable to forget that violence.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Ahmedabad, India. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.