PM Modi shakes hands with US President Donald Trump at "Namaste Trump"event held in Ahmedabad. Image Courtesy: Twitter
Call it revenge sport, but in the extravagant pageantry sweepstakes of political pomp and celebrityhood, it seems US President Donald Trump has trumped Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ circus in Houston, Texas (on September 22, 2019), when the US President was welcomed in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on his ‘Namaste Trump’, his first whistle-stop visit to India.
There was non-stop dancing and music, from folk and pop, acrobats and dancers, full-throated cheers right from the red carpet at the ladder of Air Force One, the US presidential plane, all along the route to Motera cricket stadium in the city, to roars of hurrahs and clapping as Trump gushed about Modi, India, Virat Kohli and Bollywood.
Trump had declared what he wanted on his trip here -- at least seven-ten million people waving him in from the airport to the event, but he seemed happy that the .01 million people who lined his route and at the event, were resonating with thunderous jubilation and liveliness, that must have been exhilarating.
Commentators have gushed about the similarities between the two leaders – the value they both place on their puffed image of being uber strong, masculine and virile; of unsurpassed strength and power; but there are some creeping similarities that go beyond their own personalities and, is Modi also learning his lessons from Trump in national chauvinism and bigotry?
Detention camps seem to be a direct Modi import from the US of A, and did the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies in any way influence Modi’s citizenship laws of NPR (National Population Register) and CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act)? Could Trump’s policies of banning people from Muslim-majority countries and imposing new restrictions on asylum seekers have created fantasies for a census based on religion by Modi’s Home Minister Amit Shah? The Americans are fortunate that their democratic institutions work, and so Trump’s racist Muslim ban was upheld by the Supreme Court.
However, the Modi-Shah duo have gone ahead and built their first detention centre in Assam, in Goalpara, at a cost of Rs 46 crore, which is expected to accommodate 3,000 illegal immigrants. The estimated cost for Assam alone is expected to be Rs 1,600 crore, and for the rest of the country, Rs 64,000 crore. India’s annual education budget is Rs 96,000 crore.
Like in the US too, the current Indian citizenship and detention laws cannot be attributed to Trump, or to Modi-Shah alone – in India, the decision to open detention centres was taken by the former Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2009, under the guidelines of the Supreme Court. However, the illegals detainees were bound to be released after three years with a bond and a surety they will report to the nearest police station every week.
But going by the Trump administration’s billion-dollar spending on detention centres and the participation of private corporations, will Modi-Shah go down the same route of billion-dollar contracts for building and maintaining the infrastructure? Shah has declared that NRC-CAA will be conducted all over the country, and one can only imagine the bureaucratic-police terror that will be unleashed and the multi-billion dollar administration cost to audit papers of over a billion people is criminally wasteful and staggering.
According to advocacy groups, billions of American taxpayer dollars pay corporations like private prison companies CoreCivic and GEO Group which received $60 million and $250 million on contracts from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in 2018-19.
Islamophobia has been the leitmotif of both the Modi government and Trump administration and calling out to Muslims with racial and communal slurs has been the binding factor for both leaders. Prime Minister Modi has been hamstrung ever since he took office in his low-brow comments on Muslims as he’s constitutionally bound to be non-phobic about all citizens. Only two months ago, he couldn’t resist a communal swipe at Muslims in a public rally in Jharkhand, when he lashed out saying that “those who set fire can be identified by their clothes.”
The blatantly communal declarations by Modi’s colleagues, from Shah to his ministers, at the just concluded Delhi state elections, where they exhorted mobs to shoot protesting Muslim women and children at peaceful demonstrations, must only up the competition between the two leaders on who made the most despicable slur.
If Modi’s campaign has always linked anti-Modi sentiment to being anti-national and pro-Pakistan, and painting himself as Hindu Hriday Samrat (King of Hearts of Hindus), Trump has blazed with his anti-Muslim hysteria which was seen right through his campaign (“I would certainly look at closing mosques down,”) to first ban citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries which was upheld by the court, to constantly talk of “radical Islamic terrorism” right through his presidency.
To the horror of world leaders, in 2017, Trump retweeted a clutch of anti-Muslim videos that show a boy being pushed off a roof by a group of Muslims, another claimed to show a Muslim destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, the third showed a Muslim immigrant hitting a Dutch boy on crutches. Trump had re-tweeted the videos from Jaydan Fransen of Britain First, a Far-Rightwinger, and he has often used his twitter handle to forward tweets from dubious figures.
Modi, on the other side, follows twitter handles of some of the most abusive, sexist and communal people, and has refused to delete them despite being exposed.
As for their relationship with the media, while Modi has refused to engage with newspersons in the past five-and-half years, in his first and present term, only giving interviews to handpicked journalists who have mostly staged encounters; Trump has sneered and jeered at “unfriendly” newspapers and channels and has heaped choice invectives on them, ranging from, slobs, fools etc. According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Trump has sent 1,339 tweets that were critical, threatening, insinuating about journalists to his 55.8 million followers
Both believe the media has been unfair to them, accusing them of fabricating news to harm them. Trump even questioned the Oscar winner film, ‘Parasite’ saying, “We’ve got enough problems with South Korea… & we give them best movie of the year?”
As for Melania Trump, is she doing a Jashodaben (Modi’s estranged wife) on her spouse? Now, Jashodaben is no Melania, who is a former, successful model from Slovenia, has her own jewellery line of expensive bracelets and other trinkets, a skin care line too where the prize ingredient is French sturgeon eggs or caviar; and has a body to hang couture clothing and accessory brands. Her husband even marveled at her “lack of cellulite” in a television show.
Jashodaben is an ordinary, timid wife, leading a simple, school-teacher’s life in small town Gujarat, who has been forced to keep a low profile and ordered to stay out of the public’s eye by her husband.
However, both Melania and Jashodaben have been subversive and have asserted themselves to challenge their husbands. Jashodaben was last heard when she marched for peace between India and Pakistan (could she be arrested for sedition by her husband’s government today?) in June 2018, just when Modi was intensifying his anti-Pakistan rhetoric; apart from attending an Iftaar party a few days before in Ahmedabad. All this even as she filed an RTI to know her privileges and status as the prime minister’s wife, and demanding to know what marriage papers did Modi submit for his passport, since she was denied a passport for lack of papers.
By all accounts, Melania maybe a passive First Lady, barely speaking or looking at her husband in public, and she too has hit out at the President from time to time. In October 2018, Melania embarked on a tour to Africa despite her husband calling Africa nations “shithole countries” and visited schools and hospitals, promoting aid programmes and initiatives, even as the Trump administration was slashing US spending on foreign assistance on nutrition, health and education budgets. It was a successful trip despite Melania being trolled for her colonial style safari couture.
Earlier, Melania had visited multiple detention centres near the US border with Mexico, after thousands of children were separated from their families because of Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies. She caused a storm yet again with her attire when this time she wore a jacket emblazoned with “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” There were many interpretations – Trump said his wife was addressing the news media, who he hates too; others interpreted it as a snub to the White House. Then, there was the time her office issued a statement supporting professional basketball player LeBron James’ philanthropy work with children, barely hours after the President insulted the athlete calling him the “dumbest man” on television.
Last but not the least, Modi just built a Trump Wall in Ahmedabad, to shut out poverty and slums on the President’s route to his mega event in Motera stadium.
Imitation is not the best form of democracy.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi. The views are personal.