Donald Trump is visiting and the Indian government can’t keep calm. From building a wall to hide the poor to rounding up stray animals, the Narendra Modi government is doing a significant amount of window dressing to make sure the US President’s gaze doesn’t fall on anything deemed ‘unsightly’ during his India visit.
While to a casual observer, it may seem like the government is actually doing something to keep Bharat “swachh”, the exercise actually involves spending crores of rupees and upending the lives and livelihoods of people who already struggle to make ends meet.
During his packed two-day visit, the highlight of which will be an extravagant event in Ahmedabad called ‘Namaste Trump’, the mercurial US President will inaugurate the world’s largest cricket stadium and visit Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram in Sabarmati. He is also likely to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra before heading to New Delhi.
Reuters reported that the Gujarat exchequer alone will spend somewhere between Rs 80-85 crore in preparation for Trump’s scheduled three-hour visit to Ahmedabad.
That the Indian government would go all out to lay out the red carpet for the US president’s first visit to the country was expected, but the sheer effort and resources being expended to airbrush reality is worrying. It is also reminiscent of the Congress government’s disastrous attempts to showcase Delhi as a “world-class city” ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010 by arresting beggars, expelling migrants and demolishing slums.
Here are some of the extreme steps the Modi government is taking to make sure that Trump will only be looking at clean, shiny (and misleading) visuals during his visit.
Hiding the poor
Trump, a big fan of walls, is getting one in Ahmedabad. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is building a wall to mask the Dev Saran slum that is on the route that Trump will take during his scheduled roadshow in Ahmedabad.
Sushilaben Saraniya told The Indian Express, “They (AMC authorities) came here, demolished our houses and started constructing the wall. Now they are asking us to leave. Where would we go? We have no idea where they would rehabilitate us.”
This wall is reportedly half a kilometre long.
In another slum, close to the Motera Stadium that Trump will inaugurate and where the Namaste Trump event will be held, 45 families have been handed eviction notices ahead of the event. While the residents, who have lived there for over two decades, claim that this is because of Trump’s visit, AMC has denied this, saying they just wanted to empty government land.
“The AMC officials who came to serve the notices asked us to vacate as soon as possible. They told us that the head of the United States is visiting Motera stadium and they wanted us to move out,” 35-year-old Teja Meda told The Indian Express.
Sealing paan shops
News reports say the AMC is sealing paan shops in the city so that people don’t spit on the road and dirty them. This is likely to affect the livelihood of the shop owners.
The Times of India reported that three paan shops near the airport circle were sealed to prevent people from spitting and stubbing cigarettes on road.
The AMC notice reportedly said that if the seal is removed, legal action will be taken.
Caging dogs and eyeing monkeys
AMC’s Cattle Nuisance Control Department (yes, this exists) also plans to capture dogs and keep them away from the VVIP route, the Times of India reported.
The AMC, the report said, will also work to keep away nilgais that frequent the VVIP route. TOI reported that this step has been taken to avoid a possible repeat of an episode from 2015, when the cavalcade of John Kerry, former US secretary of state, hit a mongrel.
But the notoriously raucous monkeys of Taj Mahal may prove too big a challenge. India Today spoke to the monument’s security guards, who said the catapults they normally use are ineffectual if there are more than a handful of simians.
Walls painted in Agra
Trump’s connection to Indian walls continues. The walls on the route leading to the Taj Mahal have been freshly painted for the US president. A fresh coat of paint, it seems, was not enough. News18 reported that artists were hired to beautify the walls with paintings.
Roads cleaned, dividers get fresh coat of paint
Not just the walls, machines have been hired to keep the roads spic and span before Trump’s arrival.
Financial Express reported that the route from Kheria Airport to the Taj Mahal was being cleaned up and given a makeover.
Road dividers on this route have also been freshly painted with stripes. Even statues have been given baths, News18 reported.
Water released into the Yamuna
The Uttar Pradesh government has also released 500 cusecs of water into the heavily polluted Yamuna river. Was this an effort to actually clean the river you ask? Not at all. This is apparently to get rid of the smell that emanates from the river because of the polluted water.
While Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board assistant engineer Arvind Kumar made a bizarre claim that this will improve oxygen levels in Mathura and Agra, other experts have said this won’t help.
Gopeshwar Nath Chaturvedi, who is associated with the Shri Mathur Chaturved Parishad which is working to clean the Yamuna, told PTI, “The move will hardly have any impact on the river.”
Checking homes on the Taj route
While former US president Barack Obama’s visit to the Taj Mahal was cancelled at the last minute because of security issues, this time, the Modi government is leaving no stone unturned.
“We are checking every house that falls on the route. The hotels have been asked to submit details of those staying with them to the local intelligence unit. Snipers will be placed on rooftops along the route,” Superintendent of Police (City) Botre Rohan Pramod told The Hindu.
This exhaustive (and exhausting) list of all the measures in the unofficial Show-Trump-Only-A-Clean-India drive is only likely to get longer as D-Day approaches.