Why Hindu nationalists are big fans of Trump

Asian Indians in USA mostly vote for Democrats. But Donald Trump, the Republican Presidential candidate has found a place in the hearts of a section of them , the right wing Hindu nationalists.

First there was the ritual Hindu fire, a yagna, which burned in his honor. Then there were the posters, standard Donald J. Trump head shots except for a touch of artistic interpretation: a tilak, the red dot symbolic of the spiritual third eye in Hindu culture, smudged on his forehead.

This celebration of Mr. Trump in New Delhi in May, and others like it in India this year, are the work of a small, devoted and increasingly visible faction of Hindu nationalists in India and the United States who see Mr. Trump as the embodiment of the cocksure, politically incorrect, strongman brand of politics they admire.

Credit- Rajat Gupta/European Pressphoto Agency

Credit- Rajat Gupta/European Pressphoto Agency

There are many things in common between the constituency Trump is wooing in USA and the Hindu nationalists. Trump is aiming to get votes of white Conservative Christian Americans who are unhappy with diversity and multi-culturalism. Hindu nationalists who usually belong to upper castes are also unhappy with diversification of political and social power in Indian society with lower classes getting more assertive. Both feed into a false narrative of numerical majority which is politically weak.  Both view Muslims ( not terrorists per se ) as the number one evil in the world. While Trump talk about prevention of illegal migration from Mexico, Hindu nationalists talk about stopping infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh. Both are racist and/or casteist.

Mr. Trump may be largely indifferent to the reasons behind his Hindu loyalists’ fervor, but his most senior advisers are not. The campaign’s chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, is a student of nationalist movements. Mr. Bannon is close to Nigel Farage, a central figure in Britain’s movement to leave the European Union, and he is an admirer of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist Mr. Bannon has called “the Reagan of India.”

It may be pure coincidence that some of Mr. Trump’s words channel the nationalistic and, some argue, anti-Muslim sentiments that Mr. Modi stoked as he rose to power. But it is certainly not coincidental that many of Mr. Trump’s biggest Hindu supporters are also some of Mr. Modi’s most ardent backers.

At times, the similarity of Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Modi’s political vocabulary is striking. Mr. Modi fed the perception that India’s feckless leaders had failed to allow the country to reach its full potential. And he campaigned as the only one capable of fixing that.

But something good also happened with the ascendancy of Trump in the Republican primaries. Many Asian Indian residents of USA who actively campaigned for Modi in 2014, now realise the similarities between the two divisive politicians. Some of them like the writer of this article now regrets their support for Modi.

Trump’s rise in the US has been another critical catalyst towards my belated fear for the future of secularism in India. When Modi was first running his campaign, it was subconsciously easy for me to ignore his dubious human rights record because as a middle-class Hindu, I would always be in the protected majority under his leadership. From this position of safety, I was able to minimize his secular shortcomings, which were likely inconsequential to my personal wellbeing, and maximize instead his professed economic agenda, which was likely to confer benefits to me. I lacked the empathy to understand that the erosion of secularism and the clear conflation of church and state would endanger millions of Indians. I lacked the foresight to understand how the bully state that has spread insidiously via the agents of the far right is actually undermining rights and privileges for not just the minority, but for all Indians who have come to expect freedom of religion and speech as fundamental rights. However, now that Trump is rising to power in the US with a clearly xenophobic and anti-immigrant agenda, I have found myself for the first time to be in the endangered minority whose rights and privileges may be at risk.

As things stand now Trump as a person will be a forgotten figure after this elections. But the right wing sexist, xenophobic, elitist and casteist political views will remain in both India and USA to be fought and defeated in and each and every elections in future.



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