When United States President Donald Trump arrives at the Ahmedabad airport on February 24, he will drive through New India. There will be cheering crowds – the president expects no less than seven million people. There will be miles of freshly paved roads on the way to the world’s largest cricket stadium, which he will inaugurate. There will be closed paan shops lining spotless highways. There will be a swanky new wall, stretching for about half a kilometre. At the Motera Stadium, there will be a grand event, “Kem Chho Trump”, India’s answer to “Howdy Modi”, hosted in America last year.

The wall will hide what he is not to see: hundreds of people still living in poverty in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “New India”. The cheering crowds will probably not include 45 families who lived near the stadium and claim they were handed eviction notices ahead of the visit. The municipal authorities have rushed in with explanations and denials – the families had been asked to move long ago as they were encroaching on government land, the wall was meant for security reasons, and no, paan shops had not been ordered shut, so what if it meant roads and walls were stained with scarlet spittle. But the allegations have stuck – the government wants to hide the poor.

Long before New India manifested itself, governments wanted to hide the poor. Remember the 2010 Commonwealth Games, when beggars were hurriedly swept off the roads as Delhi got a facelift? For decades after Independence, the world knew India through pictures of extravagant poverty. We lived in shanties, we defecated in the streets, we spoke no English and had no jobs but we had access to spiritual truths lost to the materialistic West. Lifting their skirts, covering their noses, world-weary Western tourists could expect to find themselves here.

As the Indian economy grew, so did a new sensitivity to being called poor. India was now to offer up a new experience to Western travellers. Our cities were to match those of the developed world. Our hospitality would be richer than what we received there. Cars would purr through smooth roads instead of juddering into gutters. Indian culture would be served tastefully in air-conditioned interiors redolent with marigolds.

But, for domestic audiences at least, carefully curated international visits provide only momentary relief from the truth. In 2010, thousands of crores spent on scam-ridden games. In 2020, Rs 85 crore for a three-hour presidential visit to Ahmedabad even though a significant trade deal is off the cards. And even that is distraction from an abiding failure: the inability of successive governments to eradicate poverty rather than the poor.