Donald Trump visit to India – The stadium roared his name as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to stage to introduce a person who “needs no introduction.”
“His name is familiar to each person on the earth,” Modi said. “His every word is followed by tens of millions. He was a household name, and really popular even before he went on to occupy the very best office during this great country.
It was quite the warmup act, and standing next to him that day last September in Houston, US President Donald Trump was clearly delighted. Trump has always loved performing for giant crowds — he has barely taken an opportunity from campaigning since 2016 — and nobody can pack a venue quite like Modi, who Trump later compared to Elvis.
The US President will get another glimpse of Modi’s star power in the week when he lands in India for a reciprocal visit. Modi, Trump said, has promised “we’ll have 7 million people between the airport and therefore the event” to greet them.
“It’s getting to be very exciting,” Trump added. Though Ahmedabad, where the “Namaste Trump” rally is being held Monday, only has an estimated population of 5.6 million — Modi will likely find far more to impress Trump with during his India visit.
Despite growing frictions between Washington and New Delhi on trade, Modi presents a vision of what a successful Trumpism could appear as if. The Indian leader has succeeded in rallying not only his own party and base around him, but a majority of the country, and now faces little effective opposition, despite sporadic protests and outrage from liberals over alleged human rights abuses and unconstitutional actions.
By contrast, Trump is coming off the rear of an impeachment trial — albeit one during which he ultimately remained in office — and facing a bruising election later this year.
Since his election, Trump has never hidden his admiration for strongmen, praising everyone from Chinese President Xi Jinping, to Russian leader Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This has concerned critics, who worry about his authoritarian leanings and disdain for anyone who dares to disagree.
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However, both Putin and Erdogan preside over historically flawed democracies — with weak institutions and a history of strongman leaders — which have come even more so under their leadership and do not provide much guidance on how an authoritarian shift could occur within the US.
India, too, is vastly different both historically and systemically from the US, but in Modi there exists a model of a democratic strongman that would be attractive for Trump et al. like him. Modi proves that you simply don’t need an authoritarian system to supply a strong leader with a decent grip on the county and therefore the ability to squash opposition.
Trump and Modi share a variety of outward similarities. Both are conservative nationalists with a history of railing against Muslims and immigrants, and a hostility to media criticism.
Both have seen cults of personality grow around them, their own popularity outdoing that of the party they represent, whether it’s the Republicans, who have long given up trying to chart a course separate to Trumpism in any serious way, or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which Modi has carried from the electoral wilderness to become a vote-winning juggernaut.
A Tight Grip on power
While Trump remains incredibly popular among Republicans and should yet be reelected in 2020, he has faced fierce opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and sometimes been restrained by the US branch, aspects Modi hasn’t grappled with an equivalent way.
Unlike Trump, Modi has remained seemingly unshakeable.
Last year, India’s Supreme Court gave a victory to Hindu hardliners, ruling they might build a temple at the centuries-old Ayodhya holy site, where the Babri Masjid mosque was torn down by a mob in 1992. Multiple senior BJP figures are linked to the mob attack, and therefore the ruling came amid a renewed wave of anti-Muslim violence that has been blamed by some on Modi’s own rhetoric.
The country’s top court also refused in December to halt a controversial citizenship bill that sparked mass protests. Critics of the law say it’ll further marginalize Muslims, and will leave millions stateless.
Both victories could further Modi and therefore the BJP’s policy of Hindutva, turning India from a secular state into a Hindu nation, where members of other religions, also as lower-caste Hindus, are subordinate to the bulk.
And while the citizenship bill, especially, has sparked mass protests, and Modi’s policies with reference to Kashmir sparked condemnation from the international community (though not Washington), neither have done much to shake his grip on power.
The cost of dissent continues to grow, however, with reports of mob attacks on protesters, and death threats and harassment for those labeled “anti-national.” Meanwhile, those sectors of the media that are not fully on board with Modi’s plan already, are “under pressure to self-censor or toe the govt line,” consistent with Human Rights Watch.
“I remember India before, and it had been very torn,” Trump said after his meeting with Modi last year. “There were tons of dissension, tons of fighting. And he brought it all at once, sort of a father would bring it together. Maybe he’s the daddy of India.”
That popularity, also as his control over the media and large Hindu base, helped carry Modi to a thumping victory in last year’s election, increasing the BJP’s majority and everyone but wiping out the opposition Congress Party.
Facing a far tighter election during a matter of months, and a renewed Democratic Party determined to oust him, Trump could also be hard-pressed to match Modi’s success