Ahmedabad is being polished and buffed for Trump. Some of it is disturbing

A Modi-Trump banner near the airport
It doesn’t get bigger than this for Ahmedabad. The mercantile city from the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the past, is all set to roll out the red carpet for US President Donald Trump.

Come February 24, Trump and Modi’s cavalcade will travel over a 22-km stretch from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport to Sabarmati Ashram before proceeding to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium, also called the Motera Stadium and touted as the world’s largest cricketing facility with a capacity of 110,00. Here, the two will jointly chair a massive public gathering, Namaste Trump, on the lines of the Howdy Modi event in Houston last September.

Final preparations for the revamped Motera Stadium
This is Trump’s first visit to India since he was elected president of the United States, and the Ahmedabad administration is leaving no stone unturned to make an impression. From widening, resurfacing and cleaning the roads and planting saplings to putting up massive Modi-Trump hoardings and readying the world’s largest cricket stadium, there is every attempt to spruce up — and fortify — Ahmedabad.

It is speculated though that Trump might skip the visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, the place that saw the beginning of Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement and his Dandi March against the salt tax charged by the British. While that might be, Gandhi’s personal chamber has been readied for the visit and stages are being erected at the site for cultural performances.

Officials in the Gujarat government and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) say roughly 28 stages are being erected along the cavalcade route to put on show Gandhi’s life and India’s cultural diversity. Over 100,000 people are expected to be lined up by this route holding Indian and American flags to cheer as the motorcade passes.

Police at Sabarmati ashram
Full-grown palm trees and saplings for various flowering plants are being planted on the route and fancy lights are being installed on the road divider. AMC officials says over 50,000 trees and saplings worth Rs 50 lakh have been procured for the purpose. “It is not that the saplings have been planted only for the event,” clarifies Jignesh Patel, director of Parks & Gardens at AMC. “This was anyway part of our plan. It’s just that these are being planted right before the February 24 event.”

Residents of Motera, a northern suburb, are meanwhile elated. With the Metro rail construction work eating up much of the route, especially in front of the stadium, the residents had to take a detour. “But thanks to Modi and Trump, the same cramped road now looks like a four-lane highway. I hope it stays this way even after the event,” says Vitthal Parmar, a resident.

The local hospitality industry is also enjoying the spike in bookings and enquiries ahead of the event. While luxury hotels such as the Hyatt and DoubleTree by Hilton have been booked for the visiting dignitaries and accompanying guests, others will see an unprecedented occupancy rate of 95 per cent between February 21 and 24. Tariffs, too, have shot up across the board by 25 to 30 per cent, says Narendra Somani, president, Hotel & Restaurant Association of Gujarat.

En route to the stadium from Koteshwar Gam
The government is understandably taking no chances with the security for the VVIP visit. Over 10,000 policemen, 25 Indian Police Service officers, 65 assistant commissioners of police, 200 inspectors and 800 sub-inspectors, along with two companies of the Rapid Action Force and 10 of the State Reserve Police, are being deployed. In addition to this, 4,500 policemen are being stationed inside Motera Stadium. The VVIP route and the venues will also see 120 doorframe metal detectors, 240 handheld metal detectors, 200 closed circuit cameras and 120 scanning machines, all monitored by 300 electronic surveillance experts.

Besides his official ride, Air Force One, Trump’s entourage will include another aircraft and six cargo planes. Already, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III has arrived at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, bringing in equipment and vehicles of the US President's motorcade.

Trump has claimed that seven million people will greet his cavalcade from the airport to the stadium. That’s unlikely, given that Ahmedabad’s overall population is roughly 7.5 million. The administration is now scrambling to ensure that at least 100,000 gather along the route. AMC officials say from the initial estimate of 50,000 people, the number has gradually — and thankfully — increased. It has asked small and medium enterprises, real estate developers, non-government organisations and religious and educational institutions to ensure that their members and employees participate in the roadshow.

A 4-ft wall being erected to hide a slum, Saraniya Vaas
The construction at the stadium has also been going on at breakneck speed ever since it became known that Modi and Trump would come calling. It was only this week that the stadium, which is run by the Gujarat Cricket Association, got the building use certificate from the AMC after the local body inspected its structural components.

There is, however, a sordid side to the preparations. To make the city look plush, a 4-ft wall is being erected to hide a slum, Saraniya Vaas, that dots the cavalcade route. And to hide the wall, around 150 saplings are being planted along it.

Saraniya Vaas residents say they are helpless. “The wall now leaves only one narrow route for us to enter and exit the area,” says Govind Ravji, a 50-year-old daily wager who lives in the slum. “Extended roofs of some shacks were also demolished and the common water taps removed." The taps are now being built at lower levels so that they are not visible from the road.

Shops, establishments and vendors around Motera have been affected as business has been hit by all the digging, cleaning, polishing and painting. With the road to the stadium being widened, the front portions of some shops and houses, including toilets, have been demolished. “There are six women in my house. We had our own toilet at the entrance as well as a public pay-and-use toilet across the road, which were both demolished during the road widening work,” says Rakesh Marwadi, a snacks vendor.

At a recent cabinet meeting, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is said to have admonished officials over reports of harassment to citizens ahead of the high-profile visit. Vadilal Dabhi, a 45-year-old vegetable vendor from Motera, says he and other vendors have been asked to shut shop for 10 days in the run up to the visit. As a result, he says he is incurring a loss of Rs 600-800 a day. 

There is a lot that the city is witnessing — all for the few hours that Trump will be in Ahmedabad.

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