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For first time, no Opposition delegation to meet US President during official visit

By PTI Updated: Feb 21, 2020 11:18 pm
Children make paintings depicting US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and PM Narendra Modi, ahead of former’s maiden visit to India, in Mumbai on Friday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Feb. 21 (PTI): For the first time, no Opposition delegation will officially meet a US President during his visit to India, Congress sources said here on Friday, as no such meeting is scheduled with Donald Trump.

According to sources, this will be the first time no delegation of the principal opposition party will be meeting a visiting US President.

Trump is visiting India on February 24 and 25, and is expected to participate in a number of events during his less than 36-hours stay.

His planned events include an official banquet hosted by the President of India, which some opposition leaders are likely to attend.

Sources said Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad may attend this banquet, but no official meeting of the visiting president has been planned with the opposition leaders.

“When (visiting) Prime Ministers and Presidents have to meet Congress leaders, they make proposals directly. There is no proposal before the Congress to meet US President Donald Trump,” senior Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said, when asked whether any Congress delegation will call on the US president.

This is for the first time that a visiting US President will not hold discussions with the principal opposition party, sources said.

Sources in the Congress said that during the UPA, a slot used to be kept for the opposition to meet the visiting US president or other dignitaries.

A Congress delegation including former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi had met former US President Barack Obama during his official visit to India.

‘Trump’s visit shouldn’t be extension of US prez poll, should yield tangible results for India’

Upping the ante on the government over President Donald Trump’s visit, the Congress on Friday said it should not become an extension of the US presidential election campaign but yield concrete results for India.

The party also raised strong objections over the “extravaganza” being carried out at the Motera Stadium in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad in the name of a “Nagrik Abhinandan Committee”, asking where the money is coming from.

There should be “gravitas, seriousness and depth” in Trump’s visit and “tangible outcomes on substantive issues” should be announced during the joint declaration to be made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the US president, senior Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said.

On issues of withdrawal of the General System of Preference (GSP) status to India by the US, reduction in H1B visas and restoration of social security of Indian professionals, Sharma hoped that Prime Minister Modi will bring these to the table during his meeting with Trump and find solutions to them.

“This visit should not become an extension of the US precedential campaign for the Indian diaspora. We do not become active party in the elections in another country.

“This mistake was made in Texas at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event and the prime minister ought to be careful as these are setting wrong precedents,” the former Union minister said.

The results of Trump’s visit should be in the interest of India, he said.

Stressing that Indo-US relationship is strategic and expands to all areas of cooperation including nuclear and defence, Sharma said the ties between the two countries cannot be merely transactional.

“This visit should not be reduced to a photo opportunity or a PR exercise that would devalue the importance of our partnership, that would also not be in India’s national interest,” he said.

Sharma claimed that in the past no head of state has been extended this kind of a welcome.

Questioning the government over the money being spent on the event at the Motera Stadium, the Congress leader asked where the money was coming from and accused the government of hypocrisy.

“Is the US President coming on the invite of the ‘Nagrik Abhinandan Samiti’? The government should desist from being hypocritical… The prime minister should openly say that Trump is his friend and he is making grand arrangements,” Sharma said.

“There is no need for the government to tell untruths. All the arrangements are being made by the Gujarat government and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation,”he said.

The Congress leader said the prime minister and the government must keep in mind India’s sovereignty, self-respect and national interest while conducting this visit.

“There have already been many arbitrary decisions which have affected our engagement with other strategic partners. We are a sovereign country and have the right to engage with our other partner countries on our terms,” he said.

India’s strategic partnerships with the other countries should be independent, Sharma said.

“We hope… our country will hear enhancement of H1B visas, restoration of GSP for India which provides preferential market access for Indian produce to the US, and also reversing the present association and recognising India as a developing country.

“An agreement on the refund of the social security contributions that are regularly being made by Indian IT professionals over the years and they run into billions of dollars, these are outstanding issues,” he said.

Sharma also lamented the contrast between Mahatma Gandhi’s simplicity and philosophy and the government’s “extravaganza” over Trump’s visit.

The Congress values and supports India’s strategic partnership with the US, including the Indo-US nuclear agreement and the cooperation in defence and space sciences that was done during the UPA regime with Manmohan Singh as prime minister, he said.

There have been recent developments which have cast a shadow, which are “negative from our perspective”, the Congress spokesperson said.

By PTI Updated: Feb 21, 2020 11:18:03 pm