SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT/Monitoring Desk

NEW YORK/New Delhi - Describing the ongoing India-Pakistan tensions as a “very, very hot tinderbox”, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he would “love to be the mediator or arbitrator” if it was necessary and if the two countries wanted him to.

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Trump spoke about several issues that hold significant importance for India, including its fight on terrorism and its relations with Pakistan.

“We will have to be very, very strong with respect to terrorism. It’s a tremendous problem. We have to be very powerful, very strong on terror,” Trump replied when asked about what he would do about Pakistan or the neighbourhood.

With his poll numbers falling after audiotapes revealed some sexually aggressive comment made by him, Trump declared himself “a big fan of Hindus” and praised India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, at an Indian-American event on Saturday.

The billionaire businessman came to the event, which was sponsored by the Republican Hindu Coalition at a convention center in Edison, New Jersey.

“I am a big fan of Hindus and a big fan of India,” Trump, who has vowed to ban Muslims from entering the United States, said to loud cheers from a crowd comprised of many American citizens, but also many, who are at various stages along the path to citizenship, or just visiting from India.

The founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, Shalabh Kumar, is one of Trump’s biggest fundraisers. Trump repaid Kumar’s generosity with a warm speech toward Hindus and India in which he said the two nations would be “best friends.”

“There won’t be any relationship more important to us,” Trump said of India.

Posters screaming “Trump for faster green cards”, “Trump for H1B visas” were handed out well in advance to sections of the crowd willing to play to the TV cameras. Outside, sloganeering groups were primed to chant “Lock her up! Lock her up!” referring to Hillary Clinton.

Old timers among US correspondents covering Trump said no other Indian ethnic community has put together such an extravagant shtick and brought in a presidential candidate and actually pulled it off like Kumar did Saturday night.

At the end of a week in which Trump faced a seemingly ever-growing number of sexual assault allegations, the rally in New Jersey provided him a welcome diversion. The nominee stuck entirely to praise for India and its prime minister, Modi, as well as his standard policy positions, which he read from a teleprompter.

On the sidelines of the event, he gave an exclusive interview to an Indian television channel. "I have great respect for Hindus. I have so many friends that are Hindu. They are great people, amazing entrepreneurs," he told NDTV.

Prodded why only Hindus, he said, "I'll be honest, I have great respect for India. I actually have (real estate) jobs going up in India. (It's) tremendously successful. It is an amazing country."

The theme of the event was the fight against terrorism - one of Trump's subjects.

In a statement days prior to the rally, Kumar defended Trump against the allegations, saying “The Hindu and Indian people do not abandon their friends in times of crisis. With India and Pakistan on the brink of war, and lives at stake in the global war on terror, Trump is the president we need at this time.”

Hindu supporters of Trump at the event said they find common ground with the candidate on his perceived toughness against “radical Islamic terror,” as well as promises of low taxes.

While the smattering of white people in the audience wore Trump campaign paraphernalia, much of the rest of the crowd donned sequined and starched Indian dresses.

Many who were present said they were not aware that the event was meant to have any political overtones, according to media reports. For more than two hours prior to Trump’s speech, the convention center witnessed a celebration of Bollywood culture, much of which took place in Indian languages. That cinematic masala, or verve, is what many said made the event alluring – not Trump.

“I am here to see Prabhudeva,” said Kashyap Patel, 29, who is a green card holder working for a pharmaceuticals company in Piscataway, NJ Prabhudeva is a major celebrity, known for his intricate dancing style and commonly thought of as India’s answer to Michael Jackson. “I think most people came for entertainment purposes. My focus is to see Prabhudeva and then leave.”

That Prabhudeva and other household-name Indian stars would effectively introduce Trump came as a surprise to many on Indian social media, as well as to many in the Indian-American community, which usually leans overwhelmingly Democratic. Roughly 70 percent plan to vote for Hillary Clinton compared with 7 percent for Trump, according to most recent polls.

But Trump won major applause for comparisons between himself and Modi, who he called a “great man,” as well as his condemnation of the Islamic State, which included a jab at Clinton.

“We will stand shoulder to shoulder with India in sharing intelligence and keeping our people safe mutually,” he said. “This is so important in the age of ISIS, the barbaric threat Hillary Clinton has unleashed on the entire world.”