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US President Donald Trump shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a joint press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Tuesday. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Well before United States President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached the podium on the Hyderabad House lawns for a joint media briefing here on Tuesday, a section of the entourage of journalists from the US were overheard enquiring about the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in New Delhi that resulted in violent clashes between groups on Monday.

Later, at the US Embassy, reacting to a query on the violence in New Delhi, Trump said: “I heard about it and I did discuss religious freedom with Prime Minister Modi, but this is India’s matter to sort out.” Quite obviously, the US president was steering clear of making any controversial comment on a sensitive issue that is India’s internal matter.

About an hour later, the joint media briefing by Trump and Modi turned out to be a joint exercise in one-way communication!

The Hyderabad House lawns this morning had at least two breaks from tradition – holding the joint media briefing out on the sprawling greens and not confined within the four walls of the Ballroom was in itself a break from tradition. The second, and this being the more significant one, was the fact that the visiting head of state of the world’s oldest democracy and the most powerful nation on the planet chose not to take any questions from the media at all. In fact, while closing his comments at the media briefing on his ongoing two-day visit to India, US President Donald Trump said in as many words that he would not be taking any questions from the media. “We’re not taking any questions here because I will be seeing you all at the press meet at 5 o’clock today,” said Trump and within the next few minutes the briefing was over.

The US president probably thought that there was no need for a rerun since he was meeting the media anyway later in the day. However, he hadn’t probably been briefed about the fact that the 5pm (local time) press meet at the US Embassy was meant primarily for US-based correspondents and those who had come from various foreign agencies to cover the US president’s visit to India. In 2015, after a similar joint press briefing by the then US president Barack Obama and Modi, three selected journalists were allowed to put one question each before the US president. A similar arrangement could have added more meaning and value to this afternoon’s engagement.

When Gulf News tried to seek an entry pass to the 5pm press conference, an official with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said: “The 5pm media conference is being entirely organised by US Embassy authorities and MEA has nothing to do with it.” Calls to the US Embassy were initially not forwarded to the right person. Later on, Gulf News was told that since the US president had already reached the Embassy premises, no fresh entry would be allowed.