Speculation rife that TOI took down its own story on Trump as it could be perceived as a snub to PM Modi’s global ambitions.
New Delhi: The US had told India as far back as August that President Donald Trump would not be able to visit India for its Republic Day celebrations in 2019.
According to highly-placed sources, US officials told Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale when he visited Washington D.C. on 8 August, to prepare for the 2+2 foreign and defence ministers dialogue, that Trump would not be able to come to Delhi for the Republic Day 2019 celebrations.
Only days before, on 2 August, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders acknowledged that an “invitation has been extended, but I do not believe that a final decision has been made.”
Sources pointed out that, in any case, “it was all for the best” that Trump wasn’t coming to India.
“Imagine if he did come, with all the Russian armoury floating down in front of him as part of the Republic Day parade,” one official said with dismay. “Especially after India has refused US pleas not to buy the S-400 missile,” the official added.
TOI publishes, withdraws story
The Times of India reported overnight that the US government had turned down India’s invite to Trump, and then withdrew its own story within hours reportedly because of inadequate information”.
Rumours persist that the world’s largest newspaper had withdrawn its own story because it was allegedly perceived as a snub to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Coming at a time when the government is scrambling to contain the damage done by its own premier intelligence agency, the CBI, signalling a war within the BJP, a Trump snub to Modi hardly confirms the prime minister’s self-declared standing in the region and across the world.
Modi arrived in Japan late last evening and is in talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today. He is scheduled to meet the world’s leaders, including the US president, at a G-20 meeting in Argentina in November.
Dicey India-US ties
The US-India relationship has been on a bit of a roller-coaster over the last year, with reports that Trump has been heard mimicking Modi’s Gujarati accent, while Modi reportedly smarted at the fact that the US president treated him like “just another Asian leader” at the ASEAN summit in Manila in November 2017.
Trump has also made some undiplomatic comments about India’s refusal to drop tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles, while the US has taken India to the WTO on steel and aluminium subsidies that India has given worth $200 million.
But the 2+2 dialogue between the Indian and American foreign and defence ministers in Delhi on 6 September went off very well, and both sides were satisfied they had addressed the worst disagreements on trade as well as on India’s decision to go ahead and buy the Russian S-400 missile; a possible US presidential waiver was also allegedly discussed.
The Trump invite question was brushed off at that meeting and nobody in the press paid a second thought.
The story of an invite
The story of the invite to Trump is as much an insight into the personality of Prime Minister Modi, who has never hidden his ambitions to be a global leader, since the time he invited all the leaders of South Asia to his swearing-in ceremony in June 2014.
The US President was first invited to come to India when Modi visited the US last June – a natural enough verbal invite to your host. Then Modi went out of his way to receive Trump’s daughter Ivanka in Hyderabad last November, soon after which he met Trump himself on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila, also in November 2017.
That verbal invite was soon followed up by a formal invitation sometime in April this year. Several conversations between India and the US followed, until the US refusal to Gokhale in August 2018.