Trump loves a big crowd. He’ll get one of his biggest in India.

By Anita Kumar

AHMEDABAD, India — Heading into election season, President Donald Trump is looking to surround himself with sympathetic officials, create made-for-TV spectacles and gin up massive, adoring crowds.

He’ll find it all in India — he made sure of it.

Just a few weeks before Trump was set to jet off to India, the president sent aides scrambling with the seemingly last-minute decision to hold a rally with 110,000 people at the world’s largest cricket stadium — a colossal structure that’s not even technically open yet.

There, he’s expecting an enthusiastic reception as he appears alongside the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, who shares Trump’s nationalist streak.

“I’ve always said the president is the greatest showman of our time, which in politics is a good thing,” said Ohio state Rep. Niraj Antani, one of the few elected Indian American Republicans in the U.S. and a Trump supporter whose family hails from Modi’s home state, where the rally will be held.

Trump’s whirlwind two-day visit to India — which also includes a tour of the Taj Mahal, the inspiration for Trump’s ill-fated casino — is ostensibly about discussing a limited trade deal to temper long-simmering economic tensions between the two countries. But Trump downplayed expectations about a deal before he left town, even as officials touted an anticipated announcement of a $2.6 billion deal for India to buy Seahawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin.

Instead, the excursion is something of a super-size redux of 2019’s “Howdy Modi” rally at a cavernous football stadium in Houston. There, Trump and Modi rallied with 50,000 people, mostly Indian Americans, as the two leaders heaped praise on one another. It was hailed as the largest event in the U.S. for a leader of a foreign nation.

Now, Modi is returning the favor with “Namaste Trump” at the brand-new Motera Stadium in the prime minister’s home state of Gujarat, featuring more than twice as many people.

Trump is looking to appeal in his reelection campaign to Indian American voters, a growing force in the U.S. that has generally backed Democrats.

Republicans have been trying for years to make inroads with Indian Americans, one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, who register and vote at high rates.

“Riding on Modi’s popularity, being a friend of India is going to help him,” said Rupesh Srivastava, a Michigan businessman and founding member of the Republican Hindu Coalition.

An Indian woman looks at a wall painted with portraits of President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of Trump's visit to Ahmadabad, India.

Modi — like Trump — rode to office on a wave of populist rhetoric, and he launched a “Make in India” campaign. He remains popular despite widespread protests over a new citizenship law that favors all other religions over Islam.

In recent days, Trump has talked about the crowds he expects to see in India, telling reporters Modi promised him 7 million people would line the streets between the airport and stadium.

“He said we will have millions and millions of people,” he said.

Trump wrote in a Tweet on Saturday that he is looking "so forward to being with my great friends in INDIA!"

Trump loves a big crowd. He often boasts about the size of his audiences and mocks his opponents, Republicans or Democrats, for what he deems lackluster support at events. He even told his first press secretary, Sean Spicer, to insist — wrongly — that he had summoned the largest inaugural crowd size of any president.

“This is a loud and boisterous country, and that, exactly in some ways, really fits with the Trump style,” said Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the center-left Brookings Institution. “I think the optics — he will get more of them than other presidents do, because I think the Indians recognize that that is something that he will want.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president to visit India in 1959 — when the United States began to see the country as a counter to China — and spoke to hundreds of thousands of people in what was then open grounds in Delhi. But that isn’t the norm. Trump, who will be making his first visit to India as president, is the fourth consecutive president to visit the country.

Tim Roemer, who served as ambassador to India in the Obama administration, said American presidents have always been popular in India. He recalled that in 2010, when President Barack Obama was leaving India after his first trip there, he jokingly told the president he may want to stay because he was more popular in India than he was in the United States.

“That is something traditionally true for all U.S. presidents,” he said. “It is a symbol of the respect and close relationship between our two countries.”

Indians support Trump because he has attacked Pakistan for harboring terrorists and gone after China over its economic practices. India has long-standing tensions with both countries. Fifty-six percent of them have confidence in him to do the right thing on world affairs, a higher mark than Trump receives in most countries, according to a Pew Research survey released in January.

But it’s different in the United States.

Trump’s job approval among Indian Americans was only 28 percent in 2018, according to the Asian American Voter Survey, a poll of registered Asian American voters. About 66 percent of respondents disapproved.

Some Indian Americans, whose families came to the United States legally to study or work, support Trump because of his economic agenda — especially the 2017 tax cuts — and don’t mind Trump’s rhetoric on immigration because it’s primarily about illegal immigration. But he has angered some in the community by kicking India out of a trade preference program for developing countries and insisting Modi asked him to mediate in the longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan over the region of Kashmir.

"The decision to hold the rally in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Modi, may appear to represent good electoral politics in appealing to Indian Americans,” said North Carolina state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, an Indian American and state Democratic leader who has spoken out against Trump. “However, a rally in Texas last year and a rally in Gujarat this month can't mask a president and his policies that run counter to our communities interest like education, immigration and gun safety."

The first time he ran for office, Trump promised to work with Indian Americans. He spoke to 10,000 Hindus waving “Trump for Hindu Americans” signs at a Bollywood-themed event in Edison, N.J., home to a robust Indian community. “I am a big fan of Hindu, and I am a big fan of India,” Trump said.

During that campaign, wealthy Indian American businessman Shalabh Kumar of Illinois, donated nearly $1 million to the joint fundraising campaign made up of Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.

In 2016, about 1.2 million Indian American were registered to vote, according to Asian American and Pacific Islanders Data. That number is expected to rise to 1.4 million in 2020. Still, more than 80 percent of Indian Americans voted for Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, according to polling by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

After he got into office, Trump celebrated Diwali, the most important holiday for most Indians, and appointed Indian Americans to numerous high-ranking positions. Nikki Haley was named ambassador to the United Nations, Seema Verma became administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Neomi Rao was tapped for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Ajit Pai became chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Richard Rossow, who worked at the U.S.-India Business Council and now holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, predicted Indians won’t treat Trump as a lame duck on this trip because they think he has a good chance at being reelected.

“President Trump is making a concerted effort to strengthen his own political base among Indian Americans,” he said. “It is a growing ethnic group in the United States, retaining strong bonds to India. So a large rally in India could both augment overall people-to-people ties but could also yield modest political dividends in the United States.”