Two days ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to India, there was one big question everyone was asking, and it was all thanks to India’s foreign ministry: what on earth is the Donald Trump Nagrik Abhinandan Samiti?
Until Thursday, no one had heard of this shadowy committee that is apparently organising the “Namaste Trump” event that the US President is really excited about. And then, in reply to a question about whether opposition leaders would be invited for the event, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that this would be up to this mysterious association.
He didn’t give any more details, but this was enough. The Congress immediately swung into action, at least on Twitter, questioning who the officebearers of this organisation were, and why the Gujarat government was paying for a presumably private organisation’s programme.
Mahesh Langa, who reports for The Hindu from Ahmedabad, tweeted tongue in cheek on Thursday night that the announcement had set off a furore in the city.
The Telegraph reminded its readers that like ‘covfefe’, this may be destined to remain one of the big mysteries of our time. It also pointed out that this samiti is not mentioned on the posters that have been put up all around Ahmedabad.
The media coverage passes for Trump’s event at the Motera stadium have also been issued by the Government of Gujarat and does not mention the samiti.
Officials involved in the preparations for the ‘Namaste Trump’ event are also unaware of this committee. “I don’t know about the committee. We are only concerned about the preparations and logistical support,” a top official told The Hindu. Another told the newspaper that he only “learnt about existence of the committee today (Thursday)”.
The ‘Namaste Trump’ event is modelled on last year’s ‘Howdy Modi’ extravaganza in the US, which the BJP has claimed was paid for by party volunteers. That event had been hosted by the Texas Indian Forum and Business Standard said the organisers raised $2.4 million in donations, mostly from the Indian diaspora, with help also coming from “two-three corporates”.
Twitter users had many, many questions about this committee. While some asked about the office bearers, others asked why the government was spending over Rs 80 crore on the event.
While some reports claim the Gujarat government has spent Rs 80-85 crore on Trump’s visit, others say it has cost the state exchequer Rs 120 crore. It is not clear whether these estimates include the cost of the ‘Namaste Trump’ event as well.
There is some good news though—the search in Ahmedabad seems to have finally paid off. The Hindu’s Langa tweeted earlier in the day that the chairperson of the Samiti is none other than Ahmedabad mayor Bijal Patel, a BJP member known to be close to Home Minister Amit Shah. And fear not, it’s not just her—according to Langa, Durgesh Buch, the president of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce & Industry, is also a member.
But questions still remain. Why was this samiti unheard of till Raveesh Kumar disclosed the name to reporters? And who is funding the ‘Namaste Trump’ event?