In Namaste Trump, an Eisenhower throwback

US President Donald Trump’s comments on his event in Ahmedabad, Namaste Trump, have left no doubt about what he likes most about it: the crowds.

This won’t be the first time India has impressed a visiting US President with a huge audience.

The first time India used teeming thousands to woo a US president was during Dwight D Eisenhower’s state visit in December 1959. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru turned out a reportedly million-strong audience to greet the first US leader to come to India. The numbers are probably exaggerated, but there’s no way of knowing.

Though his hopes for a trade deal with India have fallen through, Trump has persisted with the state visit. What attracts him the most seems to be the idea of being greeted by the biggest crowd of any world leader in living memory. He has already claimed Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised “millions” would welcome Trump at Ahmedabad airport and “we’ll have five to seven million people just

from the airport to the new stadium.”

Nehru also pulled out all stops when Eisenhower visited India, at a time when India, from the US perspective, was on the wrong side of the cold war. Every street in Delhi was lined with people and a massive audience was brought in to hear the US president speak at the Ramlila Grounds. One US wire reporter cabled back: “It was the greatest welcome ever accorded to any American president anywhere.” The US press gushed about “one million people” turning out to see the US president. After Eisenhower’s visit, Nehru declared it was “the greatest civic reception he had ever seen.”

In an event last year in Washington marking the half-century mark of Eisenhower’s visit, former US ambassador to India Rich Verma noted how the US president became an ardent fan of India and Nehru despite bilateral Cold War differences. “He was the first [US president] to come up with a national security council directive which recognised and supported India in its own right as a democracy,” he said.

Academic Atul Bhardwaj has argued the magnitude of Eisenhower’s reception “changed the US media’s opinion of Indian neutrality and its perceived tilt in favour of communists.”

The Eisenhower state visit to India became the gold standard for other US presidential visits. Richard Nixon’s speech writer William Safire later wrote how Nixon and US presidents would ask if their overseas trips would be able to match the crowds that greeted Eisenhower during his five-day India visit.

Trump is hoping his will.

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