While India seems to love Trump, the reality isn't so simple

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wave after a "Namaste Trump," event at Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Ahmedabad, India. India poured on the pageantry with a joyful, colorful welcome for President Donald Trump on Monday that kicked off a whirlwind 36-hour visit meant to reaffirm U.S.-India ties while providing enviable overseas imagery for a president in a re-election year. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Looking out over the world’s largest cricket stadium, the seats jammed with more than 100,000 people, India’s prime minister heaped praise on his American visitor.

“The leadership of President Trump has served humanity,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Monday, highlighting Trump’s fight against terrorism and calling his 36-hour visit to India a watershed in India-U.S. relations.

The crowds cheered. Trump beamed.

“The ties between India and the U.S. are no longer just any other partnership,” Modi said. “It is a far greater and closer relationship.”

India, it seems, loves Donald Trump. It seemed obvious from the thousands who turned out to wave as his motorcade snaked through the city of Ahmedabad, and from the tens of thousands who filled the city’s new stadium. It seemed obvious from the hug that Modi gave Trump after he descended from Air Force One, and from the hundreds of billboards proclaiming Trump’s visit.

But it’s not so simple.

Because while Trump is genuinely popular in India, his clamorous and carefully choreographed welcome was also about Asian geopolitics, China’s growing power and a masterful Indian politician who gave his American visitor exactly what he wanted.

Modi “is doing this not necessarily because he loves Trump,” said Tanvi Madan, the director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “It’s very much about Trump as the leader of the U.S. and recognizing what it is that Trump himself likes.”