Despite a recent survey that showed that Indian Americans had some of the lowest levels of support for Donald Trump, he is not entirely without friends in that community. A Hindu nationalist group called the Republican Hindu Coalition held an event in New Jersey at which he received an enthusiastic reception when made a brief appearance and said, “I’m a big fan of Hindu, and I’m a big fan of India”, suggesting by his use of ‘Hindu’ rather than ‘Hinduism’ that he does not seem to realize that ‘Hindu’ refers to a person who follows the religion of Hinduism.
Hindu nationalists share the anti-Muslim sentiments of Trump so this alliance is not surprising, though I doubt that the xenophobic supporters of Trump will make any kind of distinction between Hindu nationalists of whom Trump seems to approve and other brown-skinned immigrants whom he does not.
Andrea R. Jain writes that Trump and right wing Hindu nationalists share many ugly features, including a taste for tacky entertainment.
And Trump’s reach into the Hindu world extends beyond the RHC. In fact, there have been several rallies supporting Trump hosted by Hindu nationalists who admire him in India. The RHC and its “Humanity United Against Terror Charity Event” represent the Hindu nationalist mindset as a full-blown, transnational political project that paints a diverse religious tradition as a unified religious and political voice, openly reducing non-Hindus, and especially Muslims, to the status of second-class citizens at best—and, more commonly, to members of a terrorist religion.
Trump’s speech at the RHC event was situated within a context rife with Islamophobic and Hindu nationalist symbolism. There were fliers portraying President of the current opposition party in India, the Indian National Congress party, Sonia Gandhi and Hillary Clinton as horned demons on a “witch hunt” to “get Modi” and his party for alleged involvement in the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Modi governed the state during the violence that took the lives of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.
But the event’s most outstandingly awful moment came with a dance performance in which two sets of Indian actors, each consisting of a man and a woman engaged in a romantic dance, were suddenly attacked by terrorists adorned in stereotypical “Islamic terrorist” garb bearing lightsaber-like guns.
The U.S. military then swept in and saved the dancers. Following the heroic rescue, the dancers and military men stood for the U.S. national anthem and then danced together to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”
United by anxiety about immigration—and especially Muslims—as well as perceived threats to capitalist and patriarchal forms of domination, Trump and his allies among Hindus in the U.S. and India propagate militant forms of nationalism all while marketing themselves as protectors of social values.
But other members of the Indian diaspora are speaking out against this alliance.
But many South Asians, appalled by the event’s Islamophobic and xenophobic undertones, mobilized through protests and social media to challenge the growing alliance between Hindu nationalism and rightwing American politics.
“This isn’t just isolated to Trump,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a member of the Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), a coalition of progressive South Asian groups. “This is about the nexus of Hindu fundamentalism finding a home with Republicans who are using a very real fundamentalism in the US to fight the bogeyman of Islam.”
Soundararajan said Kumar, who has donated nearly $900,000 to Trump’s campaign and maintains close ties to Republican party leaders such as Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich, works to justify GOP policies from a South Asian perspective.
“Kumar is the acceptable brown Asian,” she said. “He helps ‘brown-wash’ these larger Islamophobic and xenophobic positions toward Muslims and other immigrants.”
It is always thus. If you want to rise rapidly in the political world, it pays to be a member of a minority group who identifies so strongly with the majority that you are willing to trash your own and other minorities. The racists and xenophobes will clasp you to their bosom.