What unites the leaders of two deeply divided nations at a time in history when protecting borders from immigrants and protecting cows from slaughter takes precedence over the imminent destruction of our planet?
In his book Open Embrace: India-US Ties in the Age of Modi and Trump, Varghese K George brings into focus the politics of two world leaders who have chosen to swim against the current.
Five things that Trump and Modi have in common:
The persuasive strategy of creating a larger entity apart from oneself was a significant factor in the formation of ‘Brand Modi’. The glitz and glamour associated with ‘Brand Trump’ worked its magic in his controversial ascent to the Oval Office.
“That November, in New Hampshire, I attended a Trump rally for the first time. When I heard him repeatedly referring to himself in the third person, I was struck by it. I knew I had heard this before. My first report on Modi was regarding his Gujarat campaign in 2007. The Indian Express front-page story was titled ‘In 30 minutes, Modi names himself 29 times, BJP 6, and in slip asks: me as PM?’”
Creating a sense of progress has been a key strategy in the politics of Modi and Trump.
“They are leaders of populist revolts against the national consensuses that have held sway for long in their countries.” In Prime Minister Modi’s case, changing or appearing to change everything has been a constant feature sustaining him and his politics. Emphasising continuity has been one of the key tools of conventional politics in India, but for Modi and even Trump—the emphasis has been on change. Even when nothing changes, they say things have. Modi, like Trump, likes to say that everything has started afresh under his leadership, which is a good marketing tactic.
The dynamic approach of both Modi and Trump was designed to shatter the status quo and bring about change in a political space that had become stagnant.
“Trump’s speeches through the 2016 election cycle seemed almost an American adaptation of Modi’s speeches throughout his political career. Both of them promised economic progress, employment, infrastructure, focus on military, a muscular foreign policy and, above all, the restoration of their nations’ glory”.
”The situation is analogous to India’s approach to the US under the Congress and the BJP governments. “(…)The Congress’s ambitions are modest and couched and designed in a language that foregrounds India’s poverty-fighting strategic approach; the Hindutva strategic agenda, on the other hand, wants partnership with America in support of its world leadership and superpower ambitions.”
The shift from globalisation to nationalism has become a marker of patriotism.
“For Modi, it is ‘India First’; for Trump, it is ‘America First’.”
“The alternation between notions of greatness and lamentations of decline is an essential character of hyper-nationalism. Trump blames his predecessors for the ‘rise of the rest’ in the last three decades just as Modi continuously blames all his predecessors for the alleged decline of India.”
“The governing metaphor of hyperrealists is threat and counter threat.’ If American interests are at risk, or to show the world who the boss is, the US will attack any country it deems necessary”.
Under Modi, “The attempt is to move towards a Hindutva Strategic Doctrine, a hybrid of hyperrealism and religious nationalism.”
“Those who oppose Trump can easily locate white supremacist and anti-Semitic undertones in his politics.”
“Trump said ‘illegal’ Mexicans were voting for the Democratic Party and they would be deported, while Christian refugees would be given preference. Modi said ‘illegal’ immigrants from Bangladesh were voting against his party. So he promised to deport them. But he was of the view that Hindus coming from other countries must be protected.”
“They also extend the rhetoric on Islamist terrorism to repeatedly question the patriotism of the Muslim citizens of their countries and accuse their opposition of ‘appeasement’, a word that they both use repeatedly.”
“Trump and Modi are natural allies.” writes Varghese K George. To delve deeper into the nuances of this alliance read Open Embrace: India-US Ties in the Age of Modi and Trump.