Forty-eight hours before being catapulted as the American President-elect, Donald Trump clapped alongside as supporters in a small town chanted “lock her up,” referring to his own promise through the campaign to incarcerate Democratic rival Hillary Clinton if he came to power. And as news of his victory came in on the night of 8 November, Trump supporters at a rally in New York cried, “Throw the Muslims out!”.
Certainly, as he savours the nuclear codes and resists the urge to add a little bit of gold to the White House – one of the first promises he made after his victory speech – Trump will be moderated by the enormity of power thrust upon him.
Locking Horns With Media
But like Prime Minister Narendra Modi at another end of the world, Trump will likely be in debt to his right-wing supporters, who will demand that he, at least partially, fulfil the crazinesses of his campaign. Build a wall between Mexico and the US? Forbid Muslims to enter the US? Declare the H1B visa programme unfair? Ban Al Jazeera?
All eyes are on the Qatar-based TV channel, one of whose reporters was triumphantly told off by Trump earlier this year. “You guys are going out of business,” Trump told the unfortunate journalist who had tried to ask him a question.
Al Jazeera was, similarly, in the dock in Delhi last year when it was banned for five days for not showing Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir as being part of India – guess what, it’s not. Just like NDTV India, which the government tried to ban last week because its reporter ostensibly compromised national security while reporting the aftermath of the Pathankot attack in January – except he was doing his piece to camera from a harmless location near India Gate. Interestingly, the moving pictures came from ANI news agency, who nobody has since bothered to question.
The government capitulated on NDTV when confronted with a united media critical of the attempt to muzzle free speech – the first time it has backed off since it came to power two-and-a-half-years ago. Perhaps it didn’t want to take on a powerful network, not when the all-important UP election is round the corner.
In this time, though, the BJP has not hesitated to push an aggressive, majoritarian agenda. Between forcing a ban on perfectly good beef, forbidding the use of several harmless words in Bollywood cinema, employing social media trolls who specialise in fear tactics or marginalising those who question its idea of nationhood, the Modi government has generally tried to circumscribe the parameters of disagreement and dissent.
Certainly, his initiatives in the economic arena, led by the recent dose of shock therapy to the black money economy, are welcome. It is in the social sphere where the strong-arm tactics employed by BJP supporters have caused the greatest damage. Right from the ramzada-haramzaada comment on the Akhlaq murder to the clean chit given by Amit Shah last week to BJP leaders accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots – who shared a stage with him as he launched his parivartan yatra across UP on 6 November – it is clear that the Modi government has encouraged the Hindutva surge to the Right.
BJP leaders admit, off the record, that the UP elections will witness a consolidation of this majoritarianism. “The Muslims are not going to vote for us anyway. So why lose the Hindus to the Samajwadi or the Bahujan Samaj Party?” said one BJP leader.
This is exactly Trump’s problem. As he tapped into the small resentments of America’s white working class – a group which has been the Democrats’ traditional voter base – he pushed the agenda to the Right, conflating high unemployment and expensive college fees with a xenophobia against the “other”, both Muslim and Mexican.
How Is Trump Different from Modi?
Trump made it sound simple, as if he had the magic wand that would at once destroy the privileged elitism of the Clinton dynasty – just as Modi disdained the silver spoon that had fed Rahul Gandhi since he was born into the Congress – and redeem the red-neckism of the Ohio boondocks. The reality TV star with an immigrant wife had all the instant answers to Middle America’s fears of comeuppance, by China as well as the snooty, know-it-all folks who live within the Washington Beltway.
The differences between Modi and Trump are huge, especially in the light of their devotion to politics. Modi is an intensely political being, having devoted his life to the RSS and the BJP and successfully run a state for three terms. Trump, on the other hand, has never ventured beyond a voting booth near Trump Towers in New York (incidentally, where the Indian permanent representative to the UN has his residence) all his life.
Moreover, Modi’s avowal of the spartan RSS way of life is a huge contrast to Trump’s libertine ways.
But both are very similar in the manner in which they portray themselves – both ‘strong men’ promising to fix their respective apparently broken-down countries and offering simple answers to imagined chaos.
Trump’s over-simplification of the complexities that have plagued America for some time were starkly exaggerated by the black-and-white nature of the over-influential medium of television – it is not ironical that he is his own reality TV star.
Barack Obama tried to make America more egalitarian with his affordable Obamacare which gave all Americans a shot at inexpensive healthcare. However, it is an inescapable fact that with minorities like blacks, Latinos, and Asians becoming more visible, the semi-employed white blue-collar worker has become further antagonised.
'What's in It for Me?'
In 2014, Modi employed the anger against the Congress’ acquiescence to high-scale corruption and its desperation to stay in power to push the Hindutva agenda, especially in UP, thereby resulting in neutralising the influential Muslim vote. Similarly, Trump focused his energies on the middle-class American voter struggling to ask the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Indeed, what was in it for Americans fighting wars in countries thousands of miles away in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, and dying in support of democratic values that neither the Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans had much time for? Of course it was George Bush’s Republican party which got America into some of these wars and now he was with Hillary…Sub mile huye hain. The elite, irrespective of political colour, is in this together.
America’s sacrifices in the Second World War had at least opened the way for world domination. But here, in predominantly Muslim nations which didn’t want America in the first place, why were Americans persisting with nation-building?
Why, indeed? As America wakes up to four years of Trump, some clues in understanding him may begin with understanding none other than Modi.
(The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi and writes on the overlap between domestic politics and foreign affairs. She can be reached @jomalhotra. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)