The event at the newly named “Trump Village” in a remote corner of India on Tuesday had all the hallmarks of a major unveiling: a ceremony, school kids singing inspirational songs and phalanx of national and international media in attendance.
There was only one problem: The Indian philanthropist who renamed the village in honor of America's president had no permission to do so — and in fact officials asked his charity on multiple occasions to back off, warnings that were ignored.
“We repeatedly asked them not to hold this event, but they did not listen," said Mani Ram Sharma, the deputy commissioner of the district where the farming village of about 600 is located. “They did not ask for any permission, and none would have been given if they had.”
The drama surrounding the renaming of tiny Marora began last month when Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of water and sanitation charity Sulabh International, announced during a speech in Virginia that he wanted to change the name of a village, where he is building toilets, to honor Trump and improve bilateral relations between the United States and India.
The village elders — happy to have the attention, and perhaps the development dollars that came with it — gave their permission. Huge “Trump Village” billboards were erected with a grinning Trump’s name and likeness.
But Sharma quickly declared the rebranding “illegal” and ordered police to tear down the signs.
“It was all fictitious and a fraud event by the organizers aimed at collecting money across the country and abroad,” Sharma said in an earlier interview with the wire service IANS.
Nevertheless, Sulabh went ahead with a ceremony Tuesday to inaugurate a new vocational center and some toilets it had built for the villagers. Children waved (smaller) signs with Trump’s photo and the words "Our Trump Village Will Be Clean!" and villagers sand songs praising the virtues of indoor toilet use. Nearly a third of Indians do not have access to proper sanitation.
“We are trying for permission [for the name change] but we don’t have it until now,” said Monika Jain, a vice president of the charity. She said she expected it to be granted “in the coming weeks.”
Also attending the event was Puneet Ahluwalia, vice chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee and a member of Trump's Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee.
The Trump Organization did not respond to an email asking whether this use of the president’s name and likeness was appropriate.
Residents there know little about Trump or his policies but said they were happy to have their village named after him.
“Why not — if it brings these facilities our way?” said Mehboobi, one of the women who had received one of the freshly built commodes.
Swati Gupta contributed to this report.