Ten days later, India, and particularly PM Modi’s home state, Gujarat, will be decked up to welcome US President Donald Trump for an event titled ‘Kem Chho Trump’ with preparations, and surprisingly, fortifications happening as well.
For a man obsessed with the concept of a wall to make it his election plank, it seems eerily apt that the local administration in Ahmedabad is building one for Trump. This one, however, will not keep Mexicans out.
On February 13, multiple media outlets reported that a wall is being constructed so that the US president and our prime minister do not end up slum-spotting on their way to Motera stadium from the airport. The wall itself is said to be between six and seven feet tall and will stretch for about half a kilometer. Local authorities reportedly say that plans have been place for two months and that the wall would help stop encroachment and save trees.
Similar plans that contribute to the ‘greater good’ are underway in another part of the city where redevelopment of the Sabarmati Ashram may displace lakhs of people in the city, according to urban planners.
Fear and dejection in Ahmedabad? It’s just a recurring pattern. In 2017, Ahmedabad’s slums were hidden from view during Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s visit by green cloth, probably designed to increase the city’s green cover. Ahead of the Vibrant Gujarat summit in the same year, these shenanigans were repeated.
This time, however, the green cloth has been replaced by a wall, catered to Trump’s tastes.
Historian Narayani Gupta begins explaining the phenomenon through a fairy tale, telling NewsClick that when the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland was to visit, gardeners painted over white roses in panic to make them look red—to circumvent the risk of their heads being cut off. She compares what is happening to what took place in British India when a governor “or some other laat sahib came calling, the municipality had the lower trunks of trees white-washed. Today, when the American president visits, they are frantically building walls.”
Gupta says that there was a time in the US when towns “had blighted 'inner cities' walled in by the sky-scrapers of prosperity, and by an outer ring of low-rise luxurious suburbs. Today, those inner cities have been gentrified into areas of art and theatre. And in India? The upper middle-class is happy to live in the well-built neighbourhoods abutting on a historic settlement or an organic shanty-town, but separated from them by the wall of indifference or an actual wall to keep out the poor”.
She mentions that it is in the same “spirit” that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation wants to show Trump that “they can build walls much faster than he has been able to—to keep out not Mexicans, but the classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses”.
“Will these walls ever come down?” she asks, rhetorically, adding that most of the citizenry is perhaps happy not having to see “poor people’s homes, which are described as 'eyesores'. But if God really lives in the sky, he must be looking down on them, as much as on our own flats, wall or no wall.”
A higher power may or may not be looking down on what’s happening. However, the US President will certainly not be seeing slums which take away from the ‘Gujarat model’ or the erstwhile ‘Vikas Purush’ narrative. India needs to keep applying a fresh lick of lipstick on the pig to keep selling a story.
Also read: Left Parties to Protest Wherever Trump Goes in India: Yechury