Modi: The Indian Trump?

The usage of Hindi to woo Indian American Hindu voters is, in my opinion, an important highlight of the US presidential elections. Trump’s video proclaiming, “Abki baar Trump ki sarkar” (it’ll be a Trump administration this time) was greeted with fervent adoration or at the very least grudging appreciation by India. This was not only because it was an appeal to Indian Americans in their native language but also because and more importantly because the phrase “Abki baar Trump ki sarkar” was picked up from Indian PM Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial campaign in 2014 which read “Abki baar Modi sarkar”. 

Trump, quite like Modi is a controversial figure in India and not without good reason. Both, Trump and Modi, have a staunch brand of anti-elitism manifesting as anti-PC rants by Trump and anti-elitist barbs against the legendary Nehru-Gandhi family by Modi. Both possess a macho attitude, a ruthlessly pragmatic outlook on Government policy, and are nationalists with a deep devotion to their respective faiths. Also, both have the same fans in India, the hindu nationalist groups and fringe organizations which see them as heroes against the Islamic terror cause. 

At this juncture of the Political discourse in the United States and India, I wish to draw a comparison between these two leaders as both have staunch views and represent the aspirations of a people looking towards the dawn of a new age. To compare them is to answer the seminal question, where are the politics of these two democracies inextricably linked, the oldest and the largest, headed?

The stark similarity between Modi and Trump is that they are ardent propagandists of the politics of the persona, their political campaigns were not about their ideas it was about them. Both Modi and Trump paint this very grandiose, narcissistic picture of themselves and posit themselves as the voice of the people they represent. Trump could not stop bragging about his achievements in business and his abilities, Modi could not stop bragging about his “56 inch chest” which gave him the courage to be this ruthless leader. 

The detractors of both Trump and Modi have described the leaders as authoritarian and based on their grandiose idea of themselves. Modi’s campaign slogan, too, was about him and Trump’s campaign slogan sought to declare him as the only person capable of making America great again. This also points towards another very important similarity between the two leaders-populism effected using excellent oratory and rhetoric. 

Modi has more than just advanced oratorical skills, he uses brazen humour to decimate his opponents and populistic almost Reagan-like communication with the people to attract followers, even if his ideas are sometimes unsavoury. Trump uses simple language, like “bigly,” which brings together an ardent fan base that is tired of erudite armchair generals. 

Both Trump and Modi came from the same a-priori sentiment of the current situation being appalling. Trump, in his campaign, never stopped short of criticizing the times he lived in and asserting how the United States had lost its authoritarian position in the international community as the greatest country in the world. Modi would incite fervor in his prime ministerial campaign against sixty years of patrician rule by India’s’ grand old party the Indian National Congress. He would constantly harp on the failures of the present government and call for an end to the current establishment. 

rump and Modi also share the same anti-establishment values- providing smarter, more plebian and more pragmatic forms of governance by virtue of their outsider status. The only difference was Trump was a real estate mogul and Modi the chief minister of an Indian state, however that did nothing to tarnish his image as an outsider to the establishment that is Delhi. 

Trump in his campaign never minced words in criticizing the politically correct, career politicians, bureaucratic red-tapism and Obama’s intellectually liberal attitudes. Modi’s campaign, too, comprised maxims like, “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” which asserted his view of simplifying government, reducing red tape and delay and implementing tough measures with pragmatism.

Modi and Trump, both in their respective campaigns, painted a depressing picture of the present and sought to position themselves as the “knights in shining armour” (with no small measure of braggadocio) who would eliminate the ideological trash talk and get stuff done. 

Both also invoked history and a bygone era. Trump invoked the likes of the founding fathers and Modi his only right wing predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee. Even their respective campaign slogans were borrowed from their great predecessors, Trump from Reagan and Modi from Vajpayee.

The significant difference between Modi and Trump is on the consistency of their respective political views and their respective campaign mishaps. Modi with an armada of experts and party minions and party establishment support organized a campaign with little or no mishaps; his image of a strong, stoic leader was maintained with no room for flippancy. Trump’s campaign on the other hand was tainted by manager sackings, uncontrolled scandals and quite a few flip-flops that were attributable to his inexperience as a politician. Trump has more than just flip-flopped on his ideological perspectives, whether it be on the electoral college, the Muslim ban or even the Wall. Modi, contrarily, has maintained an extremely staunch consistency in his views, never truly budging on his stance. Trump’s political beliefs are ruthlessly pragmatic while Modi’s views are pragmatic but based on very strong foundations of right-wing thought. 

Trump and Modi have a very similar idea on infrastructure development, which they believe should be a priority to generate employment and promote business, but have completely divergent views on public debt, which may be necessary to secure said development. Modi whilst simplifying taxation in India wants to collect more of it to finance development expenditure and has been creating a tax regime that keeps direct tax levels the same or reduces them marginally but expands the indirect tax policy to fill Government coffers. The Modi Government’s efforts towards decreasing the deficit are the most hawkish in the last two decades. Trump, on the other hand, is the “King of Debt” and has stated that he is not unwilling to take on more debt to finance his developmental plans; his new tax policy with its three tax slabs indicates a resurgence of trickle-down economics. 
Moreover, Trump is extremely protectionist while Modi is actively working towards free trade and foreign investment. The quintessential difference is not the divergence of these views but the fact that Trump’s views change often and they change radically, while Modi’s views have remained practically unchanged. Nowhere is this more visible than in the demeanor of the leaders: Trump is known for frequent outbursts and statements like “you are fired” whereas Modi is known as the stoic, fatherly leader with a sense of humour and rhetoric but with a calmer, more collected bearing. To draw a Godfather reference, Mr. Trump is like Sonny but with a complete sense of what he is doing while Mr. Modi is like Michael with his calculating mind but not-so-foreboding behaviour.   

Another difference between Modi and Trump is their religious views. Modi is a deeply religious man and has stated in the past that he is a “hindu nationalist,” his strict adherence to religious dogma goes to the point that he keeps fasts even when on diplomatic missions. Trump, on the other hand, always states that his favourite book is the Bible but his commitment to his religion cannot be compared to the deeply religious beliefs of Modi. This has impacted the criticisms faced by both leaders too. Modi’s detractors consistently allege that Modi is out to create a Hindu India while the harshest criticism that Trump has faced on the point of religion is Islamophobia.  

The last most significant similarity is nationalism. Modi and Trump do not hold the patrician patriotic beliefs of their predecessors’, their nationalism is more organic and more dogmatic than erudite. They love their respective countries. Modi is more than just known for vowing to restore the greatness of his Mother India, even his foreign policy views reflect the sentiment as he defines his foreign policy as being “India first.” Modi’s Pakistan policy has been the most assertive in the history of Indian Politics with him calling Pakistan’s bluffs on terror openly and brazenly. Trump in almost the same fashion has vowed to put America first, proposing to scrap the NAFTA and the TPP, subdue China, build a Wall and reassert America’s dominant position as a world power.

In the end, I wish to return to the question posed at the outset and my answer to that question is not simple. Trump and Modi are radical, right wing leaders, the oxymoronic sentiment inherent in that statement tells us that the only thing in store for the future is change. Trump and Modi might go on to preside over the most glorious times of their respective countries or they might almost single handedly destroy the systems which exist to usher in an era of decadence. Whatever it may be, one thing is undeniable, Modi and Trump shall not go unnoticed in the annals of history.  

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