Donald Trump reminds of some of Narendra Modi’s early moves though from far off America. Whether the flamboyant Republican ace triumphs or tumbles his brash and brusque ways would linger along through the rest of the year or so, writes Harish Gupta
The United States of America presidential election is still a good eight months away. But it’s time for the White House to brace itself to receive, as its next occupant, Donald Trump, whom Time magazine in its cover story defined as “a bully, showman, party-crasher and demagogue”. “His (Trump’s) is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader,” says Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican candidate. He called Trump a “phoney” who is “playing the American public for suckers”, a man whose “imagination must not be married to real power”. If it happens, how exactly will the world respond to a potential dictator elected as the 45th President of the USA?
Though it is not easy for an American President to act like Caesar, it is not impossible either. The ramparts around the American institutions, though steep, can still be breached. In the 1940’s, when the courts sought to tie the hands of President FD Roosevelt, all that FDR did was to pack the courts. Watch the vulnerabilities of the US bureaucracy in the 1976 Hollywood political thriller ‘All the President’s Men’. The media of course remains a formidable challenger, but dictators may have a way to throttle it. Lawmakers too are bendable. So the entry of Trump in White House is surely a matter of concern for the rest of the world, including India.
Till now, Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi’s foreign policy has been heavily weighted by the US initiatives in the region. The drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan was reversed in 2015. Throughout last year, US future plans about Afghanistan centred around Pakistan’s concerns and led to President Barack Obama superseding lawmakers to arm Pakistan with eight F16 aircraft. The consequent gripe in India was obvious.
However, Trump’s to-do list on South Asia includes resumed military presence in Afghanistan (to save Pakistan’s nukes). At the same time, he wants to “work with India” to make sure that Islamist terrorists cannot access Pakistan’s strategic assets. The plan does not stand close scrutiny. Why should Pakistan allow its nuclear arsenal to be inspected by any international team if there is an Indian presence in it? And, considering the well-known divide between Pakistan’s army and its political leadership, it is hardly realistic to expect the two to work together in keeping terrorists at bay.
There is little clarity, therefore, in what exactly Trump has got in his mind about South Asia if he becomes President. The charge against him being that he is not a “stable, thoughtful” leader, one must be prepared for all eventualities. For India, risks are enormous in Trump’s rather bizarre thoughts on immigration, including raising a high China-style wall across the border with Mexico (at Mexico’s cost) and packing off 11 million illegal immigrants. It’s possible that these are mere rhetoric, but Trump is clearly aiming at his Republican constituency of angry white men who refuse to be reconciled to America’s shifting demography. Many of them feel deprived of jobs by the eminently successful 1.5 million Americans of Indian origin. The number is rising as today’s bright Indian kids are generally headed to US universities and businesses, thus, linking their career with India’s middle class dreams. A future racist conflagration that singes Indo-Americans may leave long-lasting scars on India’s relations with the US.
Narendra Modi is of course a much more organised leader than Trump, a real estate tycoon with no orientation in party politics. But they are not much different. In his campaign trail so far, Trump has often brashly stepped over the red line of decency on matters relating to minorities, or the rights of women and children. And Modi, during his electioneering, while waving the development flag, did not hesitate to express his distaste of the minorities; he even described Indian Muslims as “Hindu” by a comicly twisted logic patented by Hindu Mahasabha founder VD Savarkar.
Behind Modi is a long history of wounded Hindu pride crystallised in the philosophy of VHP and RSS.
Trumpism has no institutional moorings but is driven by racial prejudice and bigotry that form the inner weave of America’s social fabric, particularly that of its South which went to war with the rest of the Republic on slavery abolition. The Republican Party that fought for freedom under Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago has now been hijacked by a New York billionaire who had hemmed and hawed to support a resolution against the notorious Ku Klux Klan during electioneering. In the 1970s, when he joined his family business of constructing houses for renting Trump had faced legal action for falsely using ‘No Vacancy’ boards to keep coloured persons off from seeking accommodation.
Hillary Clinton, the most likely Democratic bulwark against Trump, could be a more powerful match if she had fewer baggage, being ex-President Bill Clinton’s wife and former Secretary of State. It was evident on Super Tuesday when Clinton gathered 5.5 million supporters while the voter turnout at Trump’s rallies was an estimated 8 million. Clinton will no doubt get the Hispanic votes but it is pretty close to the typical BJP ‘polarisation’ in India, with two Hindus marching to BJP’s tunes for every Muslim to that of Congress. But will the American whites go out to vote and prove to be electorally significant? In 1980, 54 percent whites voted for Reagan who won by a margin of ten points. But in 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney polled 59 percent whites’ votes, yet he lost. To make it to White House, Trump must, therefore, outdo Romney in mobilising white voters.
If he wins, it will be a worldwide defeat for plurality, multiculturalism and liberalism. Its political fallout on an India struggling with doublespeak on nationalism and sedition is not difficult to foresee.
-- The writer is Editor, Lokmat Group.