Donald Trump and India
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Views on India, Pakistan and China
Investments in India to impact US foreign policy?
This report was published well before Mr Trump’s election as the President of the USA
Trump's overseas investments may impact US foreign policy, Newsweek said.
Interests of Trump Organization and US foreign policy are starker in India.
Trump's investment in India may make him take a hard line against Pakistan.
WASHINGTON: Donald Trump's investments in real estate overseas, including in Indian cities of Pune and Gurgaon+ , could have implications on America's foreign policy if the Republican presidential nominee wins the elections+ and occupies the White House next January, a major US weekly said.
In its cover story on Trump's investments in properties overseas, the Newsweek said that as the Republican National Convention+ was about to get underway in July, the Trump Organization declared it was planning a massive expansion in the South Asian country.
"That is a chilling example of the many looming conflicts of interest in a Trump presidency," the weekly noted.
"If he plays tough with India, will the government assume it has to clear the way for projects in that 'aggressive pipeline' and kill the investigations involving Trump's Pune partners? And if Trump takes a hard line with Pakistan, will it be for America's strategic interests or to appease Indian government officials who might jeopardize his profits from Trump Towers Pune?" the weekly asked.
According to the weekly, several Indian political leaders including from the both BJP and the Congress have established close relationship with the Trump family as a result of its real estate investment in Pune and Gurgaon .
In India, the conflicts between the interests of the Trump Organization and American foreign policy are starker, Newsweek said.
Trump signed an agreement in 2011 with an Indian property developer called Rohan Lifescapes that wanted to construct a 65-storey building with his name on it. Leading the talks for Rohan was Kalpesh Mehta, a director of the company who would later become the exclusive representative of Trump's businesses in India, the weekly said.
However, government regulatory hurdles soon impeded the project, the cover story said adding that Donald Trump Jr flew to India to plead with Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, asking that he remove the hurdles. But Chavan refused to make an exception for the Trump Organization.
"It would be extremely difficult for a foreign politician to make that call if he were speaking to the son of the president of the United States," Newsweek said.
"Last month, scandal erupted over the development, called Trump Towers Pune, after the state government and local police started looking into discrepancies in the land records suggesting that the land on which the building was constructed may not have been legally obtained by Panchshil," it said.
The Indian company says no rules or laws were broken, but if government officials conclude otherwise, the project's future will be in jeopardy — and create a problem that Indian politicians eager to please an American president might have to resolve, Newsweek observed.
Through the Pune deal, the weekly said the Trump Organization has developed close ties to India's Nationalist Congress Party.
The relevant excerpts from the Newsweek story
In India, the conflicts between the interests of the Trump Organization and American foreign policy are starker. Trump signed an agreement in 2011 with an Indian property developer called Rohan Lifescapes that wanted to construct a 65-story building with his name on it. Leading the talks for Rohan was Kalpesh Mehta, a director of the company who would later become the exclusive representative of Trump’s businesses in India.
However, government regulatory hurdles soon impeded the project. According to a former Trump official who spoke on condition of anonymity, Donald Trump Jr. flew to India to plead with Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, a state in Western India, asking that he remove the hurdles, but the powerful politician refused to make an exception for the Trump Organization. It would be extremely difficult for a foreign politician to make that call if he were speaking to the son of the president of the United States.The Mumbai deal with Rohan fell apart in 2013, but a new branding deal (Trump Tower Mumbai) was struck with the Lodha Group, a major Indian developer.
By that time, Trump had an Indian project underway in the city of Pune with a large developer called Panchshil Realty that agreed to pay millions for use of the Trump brand on two 22-floor towers. His new partner, Atul Chordia of Panchshil, appeared awed in public statements about his association with the famous Trump name and feted Trump with a special dinner attended by actors, industrialists, socialites and even a former Miss Universe.
Last month, scandal erupted over the development, called Trump Towers Pune, after the state government and local police started looking into discrepancies in the land records suggesting that the land on which the building was constructed may not have been legally obtained by Panchshil. The Indian company says no rules or laws were broken, but if government officials conclude otherwise, the project’s future will be in jeopardy—and create a problem that Indian politicians eager to please an American president might have to resolve.
Through the Pune deal, the Trump Organization has developed close ties to India’s Nationalist Congress Party—a centrist political organization that stands for democratic secularism and is led by Sharad Pawar, an ally of the Chordia family that owns Panchshil—but that would be of little help in this investigation. Political power in India rests largely with the ruling Hindu nationlist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress, a secular nationalist party that led controlled the central government for nearly 50 years. (However, Trump is very popular with the Hindu Sena, a far-right radical nationalist group that sees his anti-Muslim stance as a sign he would take an aggressive stand against Pakistan. When Trump turned 70 in June, members of that organization threw a birthday party for the man they called “the savior of humanity.”)
A billboard for the luxury residential apartment complex Trump Tower Mumbai tries to lure in buyers by using the Trump name. Trump’s company hopes to invest aggressively in India, and critics wonder if an investigation into one of his major developments there will be dropped if he’s elected.
Even as Trump was on the campaign trail, the Trump Organization struck another deal in India that drew the Republican nominee closer to another political group there. In April, the company inked an agreement with Ireo, a private real estate equity business based in the Indian city of Gurgaon. The company, which has more than 500 investors in the fund that will be paying the Trump Organization, is headed by Madhukar Tulsi, a prominent real estate executive in India. In 2010, Tulsi’s home and the offices of Ireo were raided as part of a sweeping corruption inquiry related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi.
According to one Indian business executive, government investigators believed that Ireo had close ties with a prominent Indian politician—Sudhanshu Mittal, then a senior member of the BJP—who was suspected in playing a role in rerouting money earned from Commonwealth Games contracts through tax havens into Ireo’s real estate projects. A senior official with Ireo, Tulsi is a relative of Mittal’s. No charges were ever brought in the case, but the investigation did reveal the close political ties between a prominent Indian political party and a company that is now a Trump partner.
[Correction: The story has been changed to recognize the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is currently in power and has been a powerful force for many years. The story referred to the BJP as the second largest party in India; it is now the largest and the story has been changed to reflect that fact. The story also referred to Sudhanshu Mittal as the former leader of the BJP; he was a senior member and the story has been changed to reflect that fact.]
No doubt, few Indian political groups hoping to establish close ties to a possible future American president could have missed the recent statements from the Trump family that its company wanted to do more deals in their country. As the Republican National Convention was about to get underway in July, the Trump Organization declared it was planning a massive expansion in the South Asian country.
“We are very bullish on India and plan to build a pan-India development footprint for Trump-branded residential and office projects,’’ Donald Trump Jr. told the Hindustan Times. “We have a very aggressive pipeline in the north and east, and look forward to the announcement of several exciting new projects in the months ahead.”That is a chilling example of the many looming conflicts of interest in a Trump presidency.
If he plays tough with India, will the government assume it has to clear the way for projects in that “aggressive pipeline” and kill the investigations involving Trump’s Pune partners? And if Trump takes a hard line with Pakistan, will it be for America’s strategic interests or to appease Indian government officials who might jeopardize his profits from Trump Towers Pune?
Business in India
Donald Trump, Luxury Towers and India, the relationship
India is the Trump Organization’s biggest international market, with four real estate projects underway.
The Trumps and their partners are offering buyers the opportunity to become “members of the Trump family.”
They lure the buyers with promise of exclusive amenities like infinity swimming pool, a billiards room & valet services.
When the Trump family jet lands in India, the family member taking a tour of the world’s largest democracy — with a Secret Service detail in tow — won’t be the president on a diplomatic mission. It will be his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., on a sales trip.
The visit by the younger Trump, intended to help sell more than $1 billion in luxury residential units being built by the Trumps and their local partners, has been promoted with newspaper advertisements that read: “Trump has arrived. Have you?”
The younger Trump’s weeklong itinerary of cocktail parties, dinners and events with real estate brokers, business leaders and prospective buyers comes as President Donald Trump is working to strengthen ties between the two countries.
The president, who enjoys widespread popularity in India, was greeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a bear hug in Washington in June, and the two leaders have frequently discussed greater military cooperation and ramping up trade. Trump has also taken a harder line toward Pakistan and China, the two countries that continue to have tensed relations with India. Two weeks ago, Trump phoned PM Modi pledging “to strengthen security and economic cooperation” between India and the United States.
The overlap in India between father and son creates a spectacle with few parallels in business and diplomacy.
The younger Trump is scheduled to arrive Monday on a Boeing 757 nicknamed Trump Force One, because the president crisscrossed the United States on the plane during the campaign.
The Trump family earned as much as $3 million in royalties in 2016 from ventures in India, according to the president’s financial disclosure report. And Ivanka Trump made her own trip to India in November, in her capacity as a member of Trump administration, just as sales were about to start on some of the residential projects.
“The idea that the president’s son would be going and shilling the president’s brand at same time Donald Trump is president and is managing strategic and foreign relations with India — that is just bizarre,” said Daniel S. Markey, who helped coordinate South Asia policy at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration.
There are no formal federal rules that prohibit Trump Jr. from pursuing his business interests; he is a private citizen. And even though his father is still a beneficial owner of the family business, he is not subject to conflict of interest laws, as the president is exempt. The White House, asked if Trump Jr.'s trip gave even an appearance of a conflict of interest, declined to comment on the matter.
India is the Trump Organization’s biggest international market, with four real estate projects underway. The largest is here in Gurugram, a fast-growing city with a litany of Fortune 500 companies and a skyline filled with skyscrapers. The Trump development encompasses two towers with a total of 254 “ultra luxury” units, according to the company, each selling for as much as $1.5 million.
The luxury apartment buildings near the Trump development in Gurugram have names like Palm Springs and Central Park, even as they overlook pothole-ridden highways. The Trumps and their partners are offering buyers the opportunity to become “members of the Trump family,” with the promise of exclusive amenities such as an infinity swimming pool, a billiards room and valet services. The marketing materials, however, don’t mention the president — his name and image, as well as that of his daughter Ivanka, who joined his administration, were removed from brochures, websites and billboards.
Still, confusion among Indians is evident.
“I had no idea that Trump built property around the world before this development was launched,” said Hitesh Khanna, who is helping sell units at the Trump towers in Gurugram through a local real estate brokerage firm. “I just thought he was president.”
Khanna’s boss, Rajiv Bansal, predicted the presidential connection would create enough buzz to entice buyers. Khanna was working out of a roadside tent near the construction site, with a tattered emerald green felt carpet at its entrance.
“Everyone in India knows who the US president is,” Bansal said. “It’s a status symbol. This is a big brand, the president of the United States’ name will be on it.”
Trump Jr., in an interview in New York last week, said he had spent nearly a decade “cultivating relationships in India,” and the company was “now seeing the response of that effort.”
The younger Trump said his itinerary did not include interactions with government officials in an intentional effort to steer clear of politics.
“We certainly won’t get involved in that,” he said, when asked if the company would seek concessions or incentives for the developments from Indian officials. “Not at all.”
He is scheduled, nonetheless, to speak at the Global Business Summit in Delhi, where he is billed as a keynote speaker, along with Modi.
Other stops on the 3,000-mile journey include Kolkata, where construction on a project with 137 luxury units is about to begin; Mumbai, where a 78-story Trump-branded tower with 400 residences is scheduled to be completed next year; and Pune, where a fourth Trump-branded project has been built.
According to business partners in India, many units are selling about 30 per cent per square foot higher than market rates. The younger Trump’s visit this week is expected to reinforce that trend, they said, even as many other luxury housing towers have hundreds of empty units. In addition to an oversupply, a recent government crackdown on the black money in India has hurt sales at competing developments, but the Trump name remains a draw.
“The brand is a lead generator,” said Kalpesh Mehta, who runs the Mumbai-based development company Tribeca, which serves as the lead representative for the Trump brand in India. “It is what is making people pay attention and look at it deeply.”
Under voluntary ethics rules governing the Trump Organization’s activities during the Trump presidency, international projects in the works before the 2016 election — which include all of the India properties now being marketed — can proceed as planned. The president handed over daily operations of the company to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, but he remains the owner.
Still, some ethics lawyers say the mere presence of the Trump Organization in India is problematic.
“The question isn’t just whether Don Trump Jr. is making phone calls to say, ‘Give me a favor,'” said Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor who is part of a lawsuit claiming that the president’s business ties violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution. “It is by having these business entanglements, does it create incentives and opportunities for people in the Indian government to try to use the business relations to impact American policy.”
The Trump family’s financial interests in India could also call into question the president’s objectivity in dealing with the country, Teachout said.
“It looks bad, it smells bad, and it leaves an uncertainty in the faith of the American public about the diplomatic choices that the Trump administration makes regarding India,” she said.
Arun Kumar Singh, a former ambassador to the United States from India, and Markey, the former State Department official who is now a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said they had not seen changes in US policy toward India that they would attribute to the president’s business interests.
The biggest difference from the Obama administration, they said, was the apparent warmth between the president and Modi.
“I have always had a deep admiration for your country and for its people, and a profound appreciation for your rich culture, heritage and traditions,” Trump said in June during a state visit by Modi, one of many such words of praise for India he has offered in 2017.
Trump towers in India
Uber Luxe Addresses In NCR, Mumbai, Pune; Watch This Space
US President-elect Donald Trump has a foot print in Mumbai, Delhi and Pune where he has lent his name to upscale commercial and residential projects.
In most of the projects that the organisation develops in joint development or joint venture, it merely lends its brand name and charges a certain percentage of revenue as fees (but does not pay for the development).
The Lodha Group is developing an uber luxe 75-storey residential project, Trump Tower, in Mumbai in collaboration with Trump Organization, which is promoted by Trump, the property tycoon turned-president elect of the United States.
Donald Trump visited Mumbai in August 2014 to inaugurate Trump Tower at Worli. The skyscraper has reached up to the 40th floor and 60% of the apartments have been sold, Lodha said.
Kalpesh Mehta of Tribeca, Trump's India partner, told TOI: “India probably has the highest number of Trump-branded real estate projects outside of North America. Trump has five ongoing deals in India with a gross development value of about $1.5 billion.“
Sales have commenced on two projects with one of those projects already delivered.Mehta said three more projects are likely to be launched in 2017. The Trump Tower, Mumbai, is part of Lodha's 17.5-acre development called `The Park in Worli'.
The apartments are priced between Rs 8 crore and Rs 10 crore. The 23-storey twin skyscrapers in east Pune were the first Trump project in India.
Bollywood's father-son duo Rishi and Ranbir Kapoor have bought two apartments (costing around Rs 15 crore each) there.
In the NCR, Trump Organization has tied up with real estate private equity firm IREO to build an office tower in Gurgaon, on the premier Golf Course Extension Road.
Suing Kotak Mahindra’s Trump Card
Got His Way Via Settlement After 3-Yr Legal Battle
[Around 2010] Delhi high court had its tryst with Trump when he filed a suit of trademark infringement and demanded hefty damages.Court records show Trump's suit lingered on for roughly three years and ended in a settlement, robbing the judges a chance to test the merits of Trump's legal case in an Indian court, and deliver a verdict.
Donald J Trump's grouse was against Kotak Mahindra Bank for launching a credit card called Trump, a move that he saw as violation of his trademark. In the suit filed in the Delhi HC, Trump's lawyers demanded that the bank be immediately restrained from issuing credit cards of this name and claimed “statutory and equitable rights over the trademark TRUMP“.
They challenged the bank's decision to sell “Kotak Trump Card' as part of its credit card business. But the HC refused to grant any interim relief to Trump and as the case meandered on, several judges heard the dispute.
Interestingly , after the case meandered on for some time, both Trump and Kotak Mahindra indicated their willingless to give settlement a shot to resolve the disputes between them. The HC then appointed a mediator and sent their dispute to the Delhi high court mediation cell.
“The parties submit that they would be willing to sit across the table and explore the possibility of a settlement by recourse to mediation. In view of the above, it is directed that the parties through their authorised representative shall appear in the Delhi high court mediation and conciliation centre on 25th February , 2011at 4.30 pm,“ one of the HC orders said.
Senior advocate Sudhanshu Batra was then appointed mediator by the HC and he tried to resolve the case. Batra told TOI, “Trump was very categorical that the name TRUMP can't be used at all. But because of absence of his physical presence the case couldn't be taken to its logical conclusion in mediation.“ While he refused to go into the specifics of the negotiations citing confidentiality , Batra hinted Trump's inflexibile stand didn't exactly help matters.
Even though the HC had allowed mediation to be conducted through tele-conferencing, none of the laywers associated with the case remember Trump being present in the video conferences to take up the issue.
With mediation efforts failing to break the impasse the case again reached the judges and it was only in 2013 that talk of out of court settlement gained momentum. Court records show that in August 2013 the HC warned Trump and Kotak Mahindra if they fail to settle by October, the court will frame issues and adjudicate.
It was finally in the fag end of October 2013 that a settlement was agreed upon.Later, the bank renamed the Trump Card and launched a fresh brand.
How Bengaluru won & lost Trump Tower
If it wasn't for Ajmal Kasab and his pack of fidayeens that laid siege to Mumbai on November 26, 2008, a 47-floor Trump Tower would have probably dominated Bengaluru's cityscape, right here from Residency Road. A four-member delegation of senior officials from The Trump Organisation was on its way to Mumbai to meet with a Bengaluru-based real estate marketing consultant when international media started beaming footages of the Mumbai terror attack.
Terrified by the visuals, and by the news that Hotel Oberoi -- where they were booked in during the stay -- was also attacked, the delegation immediately cancelled the plan and returned.
Donald Trump might have adopted the most aggressive stance against terrorism on poll podiums, but his organisation reportedly developed cold feet after 26/11 attack. It was only after a couple of years that it started reconsidering investing in Indian real estate that finally led to the two Trump Projects in Mumbai and Pune.
The Bengaluru project was one of the top priorities of Ivanka Trump, Trump's daughter and executive vice-president of The Trump Organisation, back in 2008, before it was shelved.
"The team had reached London and was about to board a connecting flight to Mumbai when they started receiving news about the attack. Initially, they were not convinced that India could have the skill and scope to have skyscrapers matching the stature of Trump Towers. So, we were to survey some high-rises in Mumbai before heading to Bengaluru. The footage, plus the fact that they were booked in Oberoi hotel on the same dates as the attack, all worked against us. They feared that a Trump tower would be a potential target. It took almost five years for them to enter the Indian market and ironically that too in Mumbai," said Amit Bagaria, founding chairman and CEO, Asipac Projects Pvt Ltd, the real estate expert the delegation was set to meet in 2008.
Speaking to Bangalore Mirror, Bagaria pointed out that the Trump delegation formally informed them that they were not in a position to go ahead with the project in February 2009. The project was being discussed and conceptualised under the working title Bangalore 47, since it was supposed to be a 47-storeyed serviced apartment tower with a restaurant, a rooftop swimming pool and other amenities, on the Brigade Road- Residency Road interjection opposite the Opera House.
The total cost of the project back in 2008 was estimated to be around Rs 140 crore and the plot size was around one acre and process was underway to relocate some commercial operations on the plot.
"Initially, The Trump Organisation was inclined towards Mumbai, but after multiple meetings with Ivanka Trump, they zeroed in on Bengaluru -- the emerging city in South India. There were two Bengaluru-based employees in The Trump Organisation in New York and they also pitched in for their city.
"The organisation seems to take serious note of the suggestions and recommendations of its employees," Bagaria added.
During the New York meetings with Ivanka, Bagaria and city-based architect Tom Thomas, finalised an initial blueprint of the building. Bagaria also recollected that while Ivanka gave them a tour of some of the floors on Trump HQ, they bumped into Donald Trump while coming out of the elevator with a couple of his employees.
"Ivanka introduced us as the team from India in connection with the Bengaluru project and he gave us a firm handshake and wished us luck," he said.
Contrary to the political views of her father on issues of 'colour', Ivanka had told them that they wanted the building to be in black as it would enhance it as standout structure in the city.
Ambitious like her father, though, she was clear that the Trump Tower should be the highest building in the city and should be the biggest landmark.
"We had to convince her that black will not work in India because it is considered an unlucky colour. The Trumps had specific demand which said that the marketing brochures of their projects to the doormats and bathroom tiles used in the interiors be directly approved by them," said Bagaria.
The organisation generally entrusts the interior decor to Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), a global giant in the sector involved in shaping the interiors of Mukesh Ambani's residential skyscraper, Antilla, in Mumbai.
In 2011, The Trump Organisation tried to enter into Mumbai real estate with a major project developer in Mumbai by taking over a tenant-occupied project, but it came to a cropper since a 65-year-old lady refused to vacate premises despite a one-and-half-year-long legal battle.
Bagaria said it was only later they successfully signed a deal with Lodha Group for the Trump Tower in Mumbai.
Speaking to Bangalore Mirror, Rajatha Shivkumar, owner of the plot where the Bengaluru Trump Tower would have come up, confirmed that the project was almost finalised before it fell through more than five years ago.
The parties involved in the project also indicated that arrangements were in place for getting all mandatory clearances for the project from the government and civic authorities. Apart from Asipac Projects, another city-based property consultant firm, Synergy Property Development Services, was involved in the shelved Bengaluru 47 Trump Tower project.
2014: Trump visits Pune
PUNE: It all started sometime in 2012, when the Chordia's were on a conference call with Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. "In the first call itself, broad terms and commercials were finalized," said Chordia, adding, "We learnt a lot from them then."
In 2014, Donald Trump a real estate magnate then had visited the city to take a look at a show flat built by Panchshil Realty under his brand name, Trump Towers. The then-presidential hopeful was so impressed with what he saw, he said that he would look to invest more in India in the future.
Chordia claimed that because of the Trump brand, the property has seen a 20%-25% appreciation in value, with each 6,100 square feet apartment costing about Rs14-15 crore, and helped the group attract more clientele.
[In Jan 2017] brothers Atul and Sagar Chordia visit[ed] New York to explore more possibilities of a tie-up with the Trump Organisation after the "successful completion of the first project."
The 23-storey twin towers in East Pune sport a black glass facade, which has become a trademark of Trump Towers across the globe.
The deal was not restricted to only using the Trump brand but the organization was involved quite keenly in the project. Panchshil Realty made monthly presentations to the Trump organization about the progress of construction.
It took the city-based luxury real estate developers less than three years to build the two 23-storey towers in East Pune.
2017: Presidency makes Trump discard Pune, other foreign projects
The Trump organisation announced to discontinue “exploratory” talks over projects in Pune and in Buenos Aires
However, real estate developer Panchshil Realty said the plan for a second project with Trump Organization in Pune had been dropped long back
In August 2014, impressed by the sample flat on the first floor of the 23-floor Trump Towers built by Panchshil Ralty in Kalyaninagar in Pune, Donald Trump had said his organisation could be open to future investments in the city.
In Jan 2017 US President-elect Donald Trump is reported to have jettisoned his association with realty projects in several countries, including one in India, that attracted intense scrutiny soon after his election+ .The Trump organisation will discontinue "exploratory" talks over projects in Pune and in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the President-elect's attorney Alan Garten was quoted telling US media outlets on Thursday. Earlier, the Trump Organization had called off licensing deals for hotels in Brazil, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Real estate developer Panchshil Realty said the plan for a second project with Trump Organization in Pune had been dropped long back. "We dropped the project long back. However, The Trump websites still listed the Pune project in early Jan 2017.
Soon after Trump's election, the Chordias, along with long-time Trump associate Kalpesh Mehta, had visited New York. [After the Trump organisation’s negative announcement, Atul said about the visit] "It was just a congratulatory meeting,"
2017: India the only emerging economy where Trump businesses flourish
- For Donald Trump, India has become the only major developing country where his business is roaring
- PM Modi was one of the first to visit Trump after he took office and invited daughter Ivanka to lead a delegation to a business summit
- India is a key U.S ally in Asia and its rivalry with both Pakistan and China fosters many areas where Trump and Modi need each other
While in office, Trump has been building a strong bond with Prime Minister Narendra Modi While in office, Trump has been building a strong bond with Prime Minister Narendra Modi
In western India, a pair of shiny black Trump buildings with gold insignia tower over the city of Pune. In nearby Mumbai, a 75-story Trump skyscraper+ will be one of the tallest in the megacity. In a swanky suburb of Delhi, two Trump partners have big plans. And in Kolkata, a new Trump tower is under way.
Three years after Donald Trump arrived on his private jet for a deal-making tour, India has become the only major developing country where his business is roaring. It has the most construction projects with Trump licensing deals of any country outside of the U.S.
After his election, Trump abandoned a number of international projects and promised not to engage in new foreign deals that could trigger conflicts of interest. With the Indian deals struck earlier, his company is barreling ahead. While in office, Trump has been building a strong bond with Prime Minister Narendra Modi — as his company builds ties with some partners who have faced legal troubles.
Modi was one of the first to visit Trump after he took office and invited daughter Ivanka to lead a delegation to a business summit in November. All of this has raised fresh questions about whether Trump Organization's deals with politically-connected foreign tycoons could put his interests ahead of the nation's and entail special treatment by foreign authorities.
India is a key US ally in Asia and its rivalry with both Pakistan and China fosters many areas where Trump and Modi need each other—nuclear weapons, anti-terrorism, Afghanistan and trade, among others. So far, Trump doesn't seem to have spared India in policies ranging from visas for technology workers to the Paris climate accord. Still, the risk that he might let his business interests outweigh national needs—or that Modi might cut him a break on taxes or permits in exchange for policy tweaks—remains a big concern for government ethics experts in the US. A spokesman for Modi did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Asked about potential conflicts in India, the Trump Organization said it's "very proud of the success we have achieved in that market with five active properties under various stages of development." The White House referred questions to the Trump Organization.
Trump's Indian partners Atul and Sagar Chordia celebrated the U.S. victory by flying immediately to New York to congratulate the president-elect, increasing congressional calls for Trump to divest his businesses. He opted instead to hold onto his assets and hand management to his two older sons.
Whatever concerns have been raised in the U.S. regarding the blending of business and policy, Trump's election seems only to have increased the value of his brand in India, though some voices in the Indian press have begun to question the effects of politics and well-publicized conflicts of interests on his brand. Here, political ties have long been the fastest route to get approvals for big projects. Only Afghanistan is more burdensome when it comes to dealing with construction permits, according to a ranking of 186 nations in the World Bank's 2017 Doing Business report.
In fact, the link between construction and politics is so tight in India that research by political scientists Milan Vaishnav and Devesh Kapur shows that cement consumption declines in the lead-up to state assembly elections because firms redirect cash from construction to campaigns.
"No one in India would think twice about him being engaged in politics on the one hand and real estate on the other," said Vaishnav, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It's an open secret that to be successful in Indian real estate, you have to be well connected in politics."
In a more surreal display of Trump's allure in India, a small village, encouraged by a charity group, renamed itself Trump Village and put up a Trump billboard to help get much-needed toilets. A local commissioner lashed out at the stunt and ordered the billboard removed. Bindeshwar Pathak, an activist who led the effort, expects the name will stick, however: "You can now say 'I want to go to Trump Village' and people will tell you how."
One question facing Modi is to what extent his changes in real estate policy could impact the bottom line of Trump Organization or its partners. Last year, he ended a tax loophole often used by the rich to buy property in someone else's name.
In his high-profile visit to Mumbai in August 2014, Trump praised Modi for winning the country's first single-party parliamentary majority in 30 years.
"India is a great place to invest, especially after the elections," Trump told reporters. He held a banquet attended by 500 of Pune's rich and powerful, in which TV cameramen pushed for position while a Bollywood star interviewed the American tycoon.
Trump spoke about his global ambitions to build towers in China and South America. As it happens, those projects have largely failed to materialize. His group scrapped deals in Brazil last year after being cited in a local corruption probe, in which the group hasn't been charged with any crimes, and several projects in China and Russia have floundered.
Not so in Modi's India, where an extended economic boom and the political influence of Trump's allies have helped his business flourish.
In Pune on a recent afternoon, men in military uniform guarded the entrance of the Trump towers as auto rickshaws buzzed about on the street outside. The twin 23-story buildings stand out in the city's unremarkable skyline. They were erected by Panchshil, the real estate business of the Chordia family. Patriarch Ishwardas Chordia, who hailed from a family of sugar traders, was college buddies with a powerful political broker, Sharad Pawar, whom Modi has lauded for his guidance in his early days in politics, and whose family members have shared business interests with the Chordias.
When Chairman Atul Chordia, his brother and an associate visited Trump days after the election, Trump praised Modi. The Chordias had been negotiating a second deal, which Trump scrapped along with other projects days before his inauguration. Chordia declined to comment.
In nearby Mumbai, Abhishek Lodha is trying to secure approvals for the last few floors of the Trump Tower Mumbai. The managing director of Lodha Group said in an interview at the firm's office that he negotiated the tower deal over six months prior to Trump's election, which included a visit to Trump Tower in New York for meetings with Donald Jr. and Ivanka. Once in Mumbai, Trump the elder made a few tweaks to the project: bigger kitchens, air-conditioning in the lobbies and kitchens, and he picked out the facade design.
Lodha is no political novice. His father is the deputy boss in Maharashtra state for Modi's Bharatiya Janata party. After the government revised rules to allow transfer of development rights to the city of Mumbai in November, Lodha was the first to take advantage and surrendered some mill land. The group gained rights to more floor space in the city but hasn't said how it will use it.
Almost 900 miles to the north in the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, Pankaj Bansal is one of two Trump partners in a city where a Dubai-style boom of sky-rises emerged almost overnight out of farmland. Bansal, who traveled with Modi in business delegations to Russia and Japan, agreed to meet at M3M's Golf Estate, though declined to comment on his Trump tie-up.
The entrance to the resort is flanked by shanties of workers. Bansal collects cars and likes to sky dive, and his company sells dreams to those fancying themselves as "the gentry"—a promotional video by his Polo Suites project offers a chance to "breathe the air of nobility, and live your life king-sized, to walk like gods amongst men."
Gurgaon's market is tough at the moment, but Bansal said he expects the family-run company to weather India's economic slowdown by delivering on projects as competitors face crises. Two managing directors of Unitech Limited, for example, are fighting allegations that they duped customers after they were arrested in April over a delayed project. Unitech, which is not a Trump partner, did not respond to requests for comment.
"People who are delivering are doing okay," said Bansal. "People who aren't are bleeding blood."
The name—M3M—tells something about the company's self-image. It stands for Magnificence in the Trinity of Men, Materials and Money. The group has been facing some legal troubles of its own. It has denied allegations in a police report in March that an executive bribed forestry officials to clear 2,200 trees at a development site. The company says the allegations are completely false.
The company was entangled for years in a tax investigation into the suspected use of fronts in land purchases, a practice which is banned in India. M3M's chairman offered to pay millions in advance tax when investigators raided group offices and seized funds and valuables in 2007, though court documents show the funds were later recouped after no incriminating evidence was found. The company said an appeal by the income tax department was dismissed in its favor in 2015.
Trump's other partner in Gurgaon, IREO, also had its offices searched by tax investigation in 2010. The group said in an emailed response that it complied with tax authorities and provided all of its relevant shareholding details. No charges were filed. The executive who announced the Trump deal for the private equity real estate firm is the brother-in-law of Sudhanshu Mittal, a ruling party leader, though the company said he is not associated in any ownership or management capacity.
Harsh Patodia, chairman for Unimark Group, who has an arrangement with the Trump Organization in Kolkata, declined to comment by phone. Tribeca Developers, whose founder Kalpesh Mehta is a Trump representative in India who visited Trump Tower in November with the Chordias, also declined requests for comment.
During his 2014 visit, Trump knew how to flatter his audience.
"I don't consider this an emerging market, I consider this an amazing market," he said in an interview with NDTV, citing real estate prices that are cheap by his standards, though out of reach for most Indians. "India was very divisive at one point and people were afraid to invest and I think people have great confidence in the new prime minister."
Trump's courting of India is already paying off: his personal financial disclosures, which released details of his income in ranges, show India deals bringing in between $1.6 million and $11 million in royalties since 2014.
2018: Trump Towers’ Gurgaon edition launched
Gurgaon’s crowded skyline will soon have a new landmark with the American president’s name emblazoned on top of it. India’s fourth Trump Towers project — named after Donald Trump and licensed by his company Trump Organisation — was launched in the city, a heavyweight addition in Gurgaon’s new but populated world of premium housing projects.
The Trump Organisation is not, however, investing in the project, which is a collaboration between NCR-based real estate major M3M and Tribeca Developers of Mumbai. The Gurgaon edition of Trump Towers will be located on a 60-acre plot on Golf Course Road Extension. It will have 258 apartments in a price bracket of Rs 5 crore-10 crore with a total area in a range between 3,500 and 4,500 square feet. The project is scheduled for completion in March 2023, by which time Trump would have faced his second election, should he contest.
The two towers that will house these flats will stand out in the skyline because they will be taller (200 metres) than other premium projects of the same proportions (usually 170 metres), its developers claimed. The towers will bear the Trump brand name and will be developed under a licence from the Trump Organization, which is currently led by Donald Trump Jr, the American president’s son.
A statement from Donald Trump Jr, executive vice-president of the Trump Organisation, said, “Trump Towers Delhi NCR will quickly become the most prestigious address in the city, with its stunning architecture, beautiful interior options and lavish amenity spaces.”
Trump Towers’ three other projects are in Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata, Pune being the oldest in India. In terms of size, the Gurgaon edition will be second after Mumbai.
The statement from Trump Jr added, “I’m incredibly proud to see the overwhelming response that Trump Tower Kolkata has received during the soft launch and look forward to repeating this success with Trump Towers Delhi NCR.” His Indian representative and founder of Tribeca Kalpesh Mehta said 65% of the apartments launched in the Kolkata project were sold in 50 days. The developers also claim to have sold 20 apartments already in the Gurgaon project.
M3M director Pankaj Bansal said, “The global appeal of the Trump brand along with the absolute best product offering will give the luxury residential market a much needed boost.” Mehta added, “This project won’t be just home for a select few, it will be a landmark for the city.”