NEW DELHI: President Donald Trump allegedly joked he could play matchmaker for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after learning from aides that the 67-year-old Indian leader has long been estranged from his wife, according to a new report in Politico.
The article detailed a long list of “diplomatic faux-pas” Trump has made with foreign leaders around the globe, including a lack of telephone etiquette, “mispronunciations” and “awkward meetings.”
Trump also displayed a lack of familiarity with South Asia, according to the report.
Ahead of the meeting last year with Modi at the White House, Trump allegedly studied a map of South Asia and mispronounced Nepal as “nipple” and referred to Bhutan as “button,” Politico said, quoting two unnamed sources. The president seemed confused that the two countries — which border India — even existed, the report says.
“He didn’t know what those were. He thought it was all part of India,” a source told Politico. “He was like, ‘What is this stuff in between and these other countries?’”
After Trump’s staffers told the president that Modi would not be bringing his wife along to the meeting at the White House, Trump allegedly joked, “Ah, I think I can set him up with somebody,” the report said, according to “two people briefed on the meeting.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Politico that Trump has developed “strong relationships” with “America’s closest allies,” which allow for “candid conversations.”
In truth, the issue of Modi’s wife is confounding — and a point of hilarity for some — even for Indians. The prime minister was married as a teen as part of a child marriage then typical of his social caste. He left his village and his wife shortly thereafter, but the couple never divorced. Until he declared his candidacy for office in 2014, he had never officially acknowledged her existence.
The wife, Jashodaben, a retired teacher now 66, lives quietly with family in a village in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
Over the years her existence has proven a bit inconvenient for the prime minister, who embraces a bachelor lifestyle, arising at dawn for a round of morning yoga. She told The Washington Post in 2015 that she still hopes to join her husband in the capital as his spouse.
Recently, when a politician from Modi’s party said at a function that the prime minister was not married, she felt strongly enough to issue a video correction, saying, “I was his wife. I am and would remain his wife and it is correct that he is married.”
Trump’s quip about playing matchmaker is not the first joke he’s had at Modi’s expense. According to a report from The Post earlier this year, Trump often affects an Indian accent and imitates the prime minister.
Although India and US relations are basically sound, things have been tense in recent months because of clashes on trade and the administration’s decision to cancel an important meeting of the US secretaries of defence and state with their respective Indian counterparts. It is now scheduled for September 6.
Modi has invited Trump to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day military parade on January 26 — but there is no word yet whether the president will accept.