NEW DELHI (NYTIMES) - Donald Trump Jr., who has spent the week in India pitching new luxury high-rises that bear his family's name, took the stage before a crowd of about 200 on Thursday (Feb22).
"Building a Better Mumbai", the banner behind him proclaimed.
"We're actually delivering true luxury," Trump told the guests, who were greeted by a red carpet, lit candles and a jazz band. "We're actually delivering buildings in the Indian marketplace that you can take out of that marketplace, put in any cosmopolitan of the world and say, 'This is on par with some of the best'. "
The Trump Organisation is reaping the windfall from India's admiration for President Donald Trump. He may have low approval ratings at home, but he appears well liked in a country with one of the fastest-growing populations of millionaires in the world.
The Trump brand "spells glamour more than luxury", said Kalyani Chawla, a brand consultant and former executive at Christian Dior in India who attended the event.
"I think it's all about Donald Trump, honestly," she said, "any idea of Donald Trump in general, regardless of the fact that even he's surprised he's the president of the United States."
But even before the President's son arrived in India to press the flesh and do the deals, his trip was creating controversy over its potential for blurring the lines between the Trump White House and the Trump Organisation.
As Trump hopped from city to city, Senator Robert Menendez sought assurances from the US Embassy in Delhi that it was not helping Trump.
And ethics experts seemed unable to overstate the incongruity of a sitting President's son drumming up business overseas.
"Nothing like this - no, never," said Marilyn Glynn, who served as general counsel at the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Clinton and Bush administrations.
The controversy only grew as word spread that Trump planned to give a speech in New Delhi on Friday (Feb 23), taking the podium before Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks.
The topic: "Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation."
"The title sure sounds like something you would hear from a diplomat," said Joshua White, who worked in the Obama White House as director for South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.
"It is not illegal, but it would muddy the waters and I think make life rather difficult for those in the United States government who are being measured about how they articulate what the administration's Indo-Pacific strategy is and will become."
On Wednesday, Menendez said in a letter to the embassy in New Delhi, "Given the potential to confuse Mr Trump's private business visit with having an official governmental purpose, I write to ensure that the US Embassy presence in India will have no role in supporting Mr Trump or the Trump Organisation during his time in India, other than that necessary to provide any security support for the US Secret Service".
The embassy said it had no role in the visit other than helping with his security.
In his comments on the stage in Mumbai on Thursday, Trump defended his actions, and said his father's job had actually been bad for business.
"We don't want any kind of conflict of interest," he said. "We don't want anyone to say that we're taking advantage. From a business perspective, it's clearly a negative. There will be a time after politics where we will be able to get back into that market."
After the talk was done, many in the audience excitedly rushed the stage to shake his hand before he disappeared.
If India loves the president's son, he appears to love it back.
"I think there is something about the spirit of the Indian people that is unique here to other parts of the emerging world," Trump said in a local television interview earlier in the week.
He said, "I don't want to be glib, but you can see the poorest of the poor and there is still a smile on a face."
"I know some of the most successful people in the world and some of them are the most miserable people in the world," he added.
Before speaking at the reception in Mumbai on Thursday evening, Trump made a renewed pitch for one of his company's developments in the city, meeting with dozens of buyers in the tower overlooking the Arabian Sea.
After paying 80 million Indian rupees (S$1.6 million) for a three-bedroom apartment, Sumeet Arora, one of the buyers, expected the developer to be prompt for the meeting. Instead, they waited for an hour and a half for Trump to show up.
When he finally arrived at noon, Trump gave the well-heeled audience members a sales pitch on the virtues of the building, even though they had already collectively pledged millions of dollars on the units, which are to open by June 2019.
"They've got some units left - they wanted us to suggest people as leads," Arora said.
Under the Trump administration, New Delhi is enjoying some of the warmest relations it has ever had with Washington.
For Indian officials, part of the appeal is the hard line the administration has taken on Pakistan, India's chief rival.
But for many other Indians, it is simply that the Trump family name seems to them to be synonymous with success.
In New Delhi over the weekend, several of the country's leading newspapers carried full front-page ads with the younger Trump's face, arms crossed over his chest with the question: "Trump is here. Are you invited?" The ad promised a meeting with the President's son if prospective buyers put down a booking fee of about US$38,000 for a Trump Organisation project in Gurgaon, just south of New Delhi.
The promise of a meeting with the younger Trump was apparently enough to spur sales, said Kalpesh Mehta of Tribeca Developers, the Trump Organisation's partner for the Gurgaon project. Mehta told local reporters that on Monday alone, when Trump touched down in New Delhi to kick off his weeklong tour, the company recorded sales of US$15 million.
Ground has yet to be broken on the two Trump towers in Gurgaon - the completion date is in 2023 - but sales have topped US$100 million, Mehta said.
Mumbai is the financial center of the country and has one of the largest concentrations of billionaires in the world.
It also has some of its biggest slums.
In the city, formerly known as Bombay, construction cranes and half-finished buildings dot the skyline. New towers compete with old ones, as buildings go ever higher to maximize space and provide better views of the Arabian Sea and the city below.
"Bombay all of a sudden has gone vertical," said Arora, whose current home in a 10-story building in Mumbai's Juhu neighborhood has slowly been dwarfed by taller buildings.
Chawla, the brand consultant who attended the candlelit reception, said she admired the Trump properties she has seen abroad. But there is a world of difference between admiring and owning.
"I wish I could afford it," she said. "I feel really inadequate sometimes when I come to these things."