Slum-dwellers in the city of Ahmedabad say they have been served eviction notices by municipal authorities as the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to host US President Donald Trump on February 24.
The slum is close to the Motera Stadium where Modi and Trump are expected to attend an event dubbed “Kem Chho Trump” (How are you, Trump) along the lines of the “Howdy Modi” extravaganza the US president organised for the Indian prime minister in Houston last September.
Tejabhai Meda, 36, who works as a labourer and earns Rs 300 ($4.2) a day, is in shock. “I have been living here for the past 22 years,” he told Al Jazeera. “I don’t know what to do. On one side, the government is saying it is helping poor people in constructing new homes but here we are being evicted from a piece of land.”
“We are not asking the government for homes, we are saying give us a piece of land where we can live,” the father of three said, adding that until last month nobody had bothered them.
The authorities in Gujarat state have also faced criticism for erecting a 400-metre (1,312-foot) long, two-metre (seven-foot) high wall to prevent the US leader from seeing a slum.
A senior government official, however, told Reuters the wall was being built for security reasons, not to conceal the slum district, which houses an estimated 800 families.
But the contractor building it said the government “did not want the slum to be seen” when Trump passes by the area.
Meda says he, along with 44 other families, was asked by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) on Monday to leave the plot, but the municipal body has denied it.
“The news report is incorrect and misleading,” AMC Commissioner Vijay Nehra told Al Jazeera. “In fact, it can be called mischievous as it tries to link the issue with ‘Namaste Trump’ event. There are no plans for any forceful evictions in the near future.”
An AMC official told Al Jazeera that the slum dwellers were “encroaching on government land”.
“We have asked them before as well to clear the site but they refused, saying we should follow due process and give them notices. And when we issued notices now, everybody is linking the issue with Trump’s visit,” Kishore Varna said.
But Mina Jadhav, general secretary of Majdur Adhikar Manch, a trade union working for unorganised workers in Gujarat, linked the eviction to Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad.
“The BJP government doesn’t want the world to see that poverty exists in Gujarat. They want Trump and others to see only the big buildings, roads and that everyone here has toilets and homes,” she said.
“They (the government) want to hide the poor people living in slums, that is why it has sent the eviction notices to these families and built a wall to shield Trump from noticing another slum.”
Nehra, the AMC commissioner, tweeted on Sunday that more than 100,000 participants had registered so far to greet Trump as he heads from the airport to the city centre. Trump said last week Modi had promised “millions and millions” of people would line his route.
The event provides Trump, who was impeached in December, with the opportunity to woo hundreds of thousands of Indian-American voters ahead of the US presidential election in November.
Trump is also expected to visit the humble abode of India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad.
Authorities in Ahmedabad expect to spend 800 to 850 million Indian rupees ($11-12m) on preparations for the first India visit by the US president, Reuters reported quoting officials.
Trump, who has made his pledge to build a wall along the US’s border with Mexico a feature of his presidency, will visit India on February 24-25 to reaffirm strategic ties that have been buffeted by trade disputes.
Bilal Kuchay contributed to this report from New Delhi