Trump is the third US President to visit India over the last decade and a half. Each of the four presidential visits — Barack Obama visited twice — have had a context.
While the Presidents’ most used word has unsurprisingly been ‘India’, all their speeches have had two other things in common — the invocation of Swami Vivekananda, and praise for the Indian American community.
George W Bush, 2006, Purana Qila, New Delhi
President George W Bush came to India less than a year after he and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the India-US nuclear deal, and wanted to consolidate the gains from the Indian PM’s visit. He praised India’s “wise” economic reforms, welcomed its rise, and spoken out against protectionism — since many in the United States had raised concerns on job losses due to outsourcing.
President Bush also asked for lifting caps on foreign investment, and for making rules more transparent and lowering tariffs to get more market access.
One of the major themes in President Bush’s address, understandably, was terrorism — recalling the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, and on India’s Parliament on December 13 that same year. “The terrorists have misunderstood our countries. America and India love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it,” he said famously.
Bush’s visit came five years after President Bill Clinton visited. The Americans were dealing with an India in which PM Singh headed a coalition government that was being supported by the Left parties. Since Bush was visiting after the US war on terror in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, his visit was marked by protests by leaders within the government, as well as by many student groups.
In that atmosphere, Bush said that the best way to counter resentment was to allow peaceful expression. He spoke of human rights and the value of democracy, and said that the world needed India’s leadership in that direction.
Since he was also going to Pakistan after his India trip, Bush also talked about the US’s “close relationship” with Pakistan. He said he believed that a prosperous, democratic Pakistan would be a peaceful neighbour for India, and a force for freedom and moderation in the Muslim world.
President Bush also talked about the 2 million Indian Americans, and praised their contributions.
Barack Obama, 2015 & 2010, Siri Fort; Joint Session of Parliament
Obama is the only US President to have visited India twice while in office; he was also the first US President to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations.
In 2015, Obama interacted with the newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His speech was marked with a call for working together on a vast range of issues. A firm believer for lifting up people, he talked about the “historic opportunity” for India to lead the way to end the injustice of extreme poverty. He also talked about America wanting to be India’s partner in the next wave of growth, and closer partners in ensuring mutual security.
A vocal advocate of climate change, Obama pressed India to embrace cleaner fuels. He also talked about the “inherent dignity” in every human being, and championed the empowerment of women. “If nations really want to succeed in today’s global economy, they can’t simply ignore the talents of half their people. And as husbands and fathers and brothers, we have to step up — because every girl’s life matters. Every daughter deserves the same chance as our sons,” Obama said.
President Obama’s speech made headlines because he talked about freedom of religion at a time when there were incidents of religious intolerance in India. “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith — so long as it’s not splintered along any lines — and is unified as one nation”, he famously said.
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Like President Donald Trump on Monday and President Bush before him, President Obama too, talked about 3 million Indian Americans and their contributions to the US.
In 2010, during his first visit, President Obama had come down hard on Pakistan, since the visit was taking place after the Mumbai terror attacks and Mumbai was his first stop in India. He said: “We’ll continue to insist to Pakistan’s leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks must be brought to justice.”
With Manmohan Singh, Obama had an easy, intellectual relationship, and that was the context in which the visit had taken place. He also pledged, for the first time, that he looked forward to a reformed UN Security Council that included India as a permanent member.
Donald Trump, 2020, Motera stadium, Ahmedabad
A transactional President, Donald Trump has come to India on his first standalone visit at a time when India and the US are developing close cooperation in defence and security. Though trade remains a major sticking point, the two sides are making efforts to iron out their issues. In his speech, Trump lavished praise on Modi as an “exceptional leader”, but a tough negotiator.
President Trump mentioned “radical Islamic terrorism”, but also said that he had a “very good” relationship with Pakistan, and mentioned the progress in the crackdown against terrorist groups.
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Trump’s visit comes in an election year for him, and he is looking at the 4 million Indian American constituency quite closely, and also wants to showcase the defence deals worth $3 billion as a big win for his constituents — that he has been able to create jobs back home.