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India rushes to give Trump a mega rally after PM Modi promises large public reception

The sun-baked city of Ahmedabad was jostling with activity Sunday as workers cleaned roads, planted flowers and hoisted hundreds of billboards featuring President Donald Trump, a day ahead of his maiden two-day visit to India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised him a boisterous public reception.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the northwestern city are expected to greet Trump on Monday for a road show leading to a massive rally at what has been touted as the world’s largest cricket stadium.

Trump’s motorcade will travel amid cheers from a battery of carefully picked and vetted Modi loyalists and workers from his Bharatiya Janata Party who will stand for hours alongside the neatly manicured 22-kilometre stretch of road to accord Trump a grand welcome.

Tens of thousands of police officers will be on hand to keep security tight and a new wall has come up in front of a slum, apparently to hide it from passers-by.

Monday’s event is the second act of growing bonhomie between Trump and Modi after they shared a stage last year in Houston at a rally called “Howdy, Modi!” that featured flashy Bollywood musical and dance numbers and was organized by a non-profit group with Hindu nationalist links.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is pulling out all the stops, at an expense of more than $14 million, to woo the president and first lady Melania Trump. But experts have said that very little of substance will be achieved for either side beyond the pageantry and symbolism.

For Modi, however, the event could be a reprieve from opposition in the country against some of his recent policies, a slumping economy and ongoing protests over a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.

Experts say a U.S.-India trade pact, which has been in the works from the last three years, seems off the table.

“They’ve been hitting us very hard for many, many years,” Trump said this week, while quickly adding, “I really like Prime Minister Modi.”

The slick extravaganza, to the annoyance of some locals, has not gone well for Modi’s rivals, who have said Trump’s visit will not benefit India but is aimed at boosting the American economy.

Jaiveer Shergill, a spokesman for the main opposition Congress party, said Saturday that relations between the two countries “should be weighed on scales of targets achieved” and need to remain beyond “hugs and handshakes.”

The pomp and show around the rally seem to have gotten to Trump, who on Sunday tweeted a mashup video from a blockbuster Indian movie. The video had his face superimposed on the protagonist and showed the president as a medieval-era war hero participating in a battle.

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