For Better Or For (How Much) Worse? What Trump’s Win Means For Indians

Posted on November 24, 2016 in GlobeScope

By Nirjhar Mukherjee:

Trump’s victory in the U.S. Presidential elections is a reality now. Given the pre-election racist rhetoric that he used, it is not surprising that many Indians are rightfully feeling insecure about the future. This even more applicable with those Indians living in the United States and their family and near ones. On the other hand, Trump has also said a number of nice things about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has raised speculation among certain sections of Indians that things might not be as bad as expected. Thus, unpredictable as this shocking victory was, the future of the Trump presidency for the millions of Indians in USA seems to be quite uncertain as well.

To look at the racial factor, things aren’t quite promising. Like it or not, racism is still a salient feature of life in the United States. Nothing could make this even more evident than the latest election results. The Trump victory was propelled by a predominantly white, less educated, lower middle class, rural vote base. It is common knowledge that the racism within the American population is more pronounced within this demographic base. Further, racism is profound even within white women – something which was evident in the election result.

In such a situation, it is definitely not safe to be a non-white person in America. To ease the tension a little, it might be said that most Indian Americans and Indians in American generally live in the cities as they are either students or professionals. The cities, even in red states largely vote Democrat and universities, even in rural or semi-rural areas, are largely islands of progressive thought. But the problems would again be more pervasive for Indians living in the small suburban and rural cities of middle America. These small towns are residential areas and many Indians have purchased homes there.

While the cities and coastal blue states may offer a greater degree of protection, it is still to be kept in mind that racism exists in those areas too. Further, if Trump lives up to his election rhetoric, it would not need the genius of a social science professor to say that ordinary citizens would be even more emboldened to exhibit their racist proclivities.

Within days of the election verdict, there has been a huge increment in the number of racist and other hate crimes throughout the United States. Campuses have not escaped this wave. In fact, right after the election results- in some cases within hours, international students at various American universities have received messages from the university authorities stating that they should not feel unsafe and the authorities are there for their well-being. The very fact that the university authorities have to send such messages after an election victory is a clear example which demonstrates the gravity of the situation!

The Trump victory is an indicator that getting visas to the United States is going to be tougher. It is being reported that the OPT and CPT training period extensions and facilities of the F1 visa might be withdrawn under a Trump regime. According to some reports, Trump favours the abolition of the J1 visa program which was used for exchange students. There might be further restrictions on working facilities for Indian students who have the F1 visa. Students who work beyond the 20 hours per week work limit informally (illegally) at establishments like restaurants and shops, may expect crackdowns or other government action. The white working class which has significantly voted for Trump would definitely try to extract its pound of flesh.

As far as H1B visas are concerned, the situation is expected to get worse. If Trump does try to enforce job restrictions on foreigners to generate jobs for Americans, the news is definitely of great alarm to those currently residing there and those who aspire to work in the USA. Another section of Indians which might bear the brunt of Trump’s policies is the large number of BPO/KPO workers who work for American firms sitting in India. If outsourcing of jobs end, it would mean disaster for many Indian youths whose livelihoods depend on such jobs.

If everything is so bad then, where does the Modi factor come in? Isn’t Modi a great friend of Trump? Well yes, Modi and his ideological similarities with the new President-elect might have certain ramifications. Firstly, on the economic front, a certain section of Indians living in the United States – some very well off capitalists and entrepreneurs – might gain as Trump needs their financial support. It must be noted that a number of Indians have, over many decades, done very well in America in terms of money. A large number of such rich Hindu capitalists have sided with Trump. It was the same group of persons who had rallied behind Modi, financially and otherwise, during the 2014 elections.

It needs to be noted that right from the days of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, a significant portion of funding for the RSS has been coming from the rich NRI American Hindus. If one goes by data, Hindu Americans are the second richest religious group in USA after the Jews. The opportunity to exchange political support in exchange of financial dividends has been secured by the Republican party. Recently, an organisation called the Republican Hindu Coalition has been created modelled on the Jewish Republican Coalition. Trump has personally been a part of the programs of this organisation whoss leader Shalabh Kumar happens to be a great supporter of Trump.

The resonance of this kind of nexus has been felt in India with the activists of the Hindu Sena, which has gained notoriety for a number of communal activities, advocating for a Trump victory. Further, some Facebook posts depicted Trump as the Hindu God Vishnu, seated on a lotus. The Islamophobia of Trump has indeed been welcomed by such communal elements in India, USA and of course on social media. This coupled with the financial backing of the rich Hindus will indeed create a potent mix of capitalism and spread of communal hatred within and beyond the boundaries of the two countries.

While Indians are likely to lose jobs, a Modi-Trump ‘jugalbandi‘ (duet) is likely to make capitalist ventures (read, exploitation) smoother. It is only logical to expect greater investments in India by American firms including those owned by Hindu capitalists and greater ease of business (read, labour exploitation and related damage). As the environment is likely to take a beating in USA, its effects will be felt in India. Encouraged by the lower environmental regulation and protection (very likely in the near future), India is likely to follow suit. The Modi administration would be perfect to speed up the exploitation of resources and related activities.

In the foreign affairs sector, there might be substantial areas where India might stand a chance of gaining.  Trump is likely to clamp down hard on Islamic terror outfits and the states which fund them. This may (if he lives up to his rhetoric) lead to deteriorating relations with Pakistan and better relations with India. Trump might just see India as a valuable ally in a region vital to US interests as a power both against Islamist terror outfits and as a counter to China. There remains a theoretical possibility (again if Trump doesn’t change much after becoming president) of a palpable shift in the axis of US foreign policy in South Asia.

Further, if Trump’s friendship with Putin (who it seems will remain the Russian ace for a while) endures, it might be easier for India to deal with USA and Russia – all at once and manoeuvre a greater deal in terms of power, influence and diplomatic benefits in the international sphere. However, all this is subject to speculation and great degrees of fluctuations with a large number of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ attached. It might be a different story altogether if someone like Mitt Romney becomes the Secretary of State.

However, if Trump remains anything like his pre-election self, it will be easier to negotiate easy terms for powers like India and Russia. No prizes for guessing why. Thus, there may be a scope to negotiate terms and weaken American hegemony and increase the dimension of multilateralism in international relations.

Finally, unless you are exceptionally rich and/or a Hindu capitalist in the USA, a person committed to the rise of Hindutva or some diplomat in the Foreign Service, Trump has not brought “ache din” (good days) for you. Much like the non-white, non-privileged working classes across the world, the days are likely to bring forth greater struggles and hardships both inside USA and outside.

The heartening news for these people is the fact that activism in USA is the other thing which has increased dramatically in the last ten days or so. Such struggles have to be carried on inside USA as well as in India – more vigorously than ever, else the world might be radically changed place in the next eight (at least four) years in a not-so-positive manner. As Slavoj Zizek and others have said, a Trump presidency does mean an uncertain and dangerous future. But it also opens up possibilities to bring change – to reset some of the equations in world politics. Whether that happens for better or worse will depend on the commitment and potency of struggles worldwide. Indians too should brace themselves for such a struggle.

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