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World

Modi Welcomes Trump To India With A Massive Rally

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last year, it was Howdy, Modi. This year, it's Namaste, Trump. We're talking about the seemingly close relationship between President Trump and India's prime minister, Narendra Modi. Trump hosted Modi onstage at a rally in Houston last year. Today, Modi returned the favor, hosting Trump for a giant rally at a cricket stadium in his home state in western India. Here's what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Cheering).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in the stadium, joins us now. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: So I saw video of this big event. And like a Trump rally here in the U.S., there were a lot of people wearing baseball hats. Can you explain?

FRAYER: There are. And they're not those red Make America Great Again hats, but it's sort of the Indian version. These are white baseball caps that read Namaste in Hindi script, which means hello or welcome, and then Trump in English letters. And it's a sea of these hats here. We're in what's billed as the world's biggest cricket stadium, holds more than 100,000 people. They were blasting Bollywood songs and then switched at the last minute to the song "Macho Man" just as Trump and Modi came out on the stage. This is Modi's home state. And he's just throwing this gigantic welcome party for Trump. It feels like every lamppost in this city is plastered with portraits of Trump and Modi holding hands. My Uber drove under a highway overpass that was draped with a banner that said, two dynamic personalities, one momentous occasion.

MARTIN: Wow.

FRAYER: There are school - yeah. There are school groups there, Hindu nationalist groups there, business leaders. There are also Indian Americans here. Daksha Dalal lives in Kansas City. She happened to be visiting family in India, and she got tickets to this rally.

DAKSHA DALAL: I'm feeling proud and exuberant that two big democracies in action, you know, working together - one on the East, one on the West.

FRAYER: And so that Kansas City resident there is a registered Democrat. She voted for Trump last time. And she says she'll do it again in November. Like her, there are approximately 4 million Indian Americans. They've traditionally leaned Democrat. Trump may be vying for those votes now with rallies like Howdy, Modi last year and this one today.

MARTIN: But what about Indians themselves? What do they like about Donald Trump?

FRAYER: He is well-liked here. He is seen as a strong leader. I mean, the U.S. overall is very popular in India. This is the world's largest democracy. India has a lot of respect for the world's most powerful democracy. But you've got to go back to 1959 - Dwight Eisenhower - to find a U.S. president addressing a crowd like this in India. Trump spoke to the crowd. He praised Modi, noting how the Indian prime minister was once a teenage chaiwala, a tea seller, who grew up to become prime minister. He just had this effusive praise.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America loves India. America respects India. And America will always be faithful and loyal friends...

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: ...To the Indian people.

FRAYER: And the crowd cheered when Trump said he's working with India to fight Islamist terrorism. The only time the crowd really went silent was when Trump mentioned how the U.S. is also working with Pakistan, India's archrival next door. But it was mostly light. Trump mentioned Bollywood films. He dropped a few names of famous cricket stars. He botched the pronunciations of some of those. But the crowd went wild nonetheless.

MARTIN: So as you said, sounds like a big party. Is there any policy on the agenda?

FRAYER: Not much. This trip so far has been more about pageantry and optics over substance. This evening, the president and first lady go to the Taj Mahal for a photo op at sunset. Then they will overnight in the capital, New Delhi. Tomorrow is really the policy day. Trump will be holding bilateral meetings and trade talks there with prime minister and other Indian leaders.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Lauren Frayer reporting on that rally in India - Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosting President Trump. Thanks, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.