A spectacle of egos: Dissecting the Trump-Modi modus operandi

Published: February 27, 2020
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While American President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were busy tooting each other’s horns this week, Delhi was burning. The Hindu-Muslim riots were emblematic of the violence and sectarian divide which has gripped India in recent times. Yet, it appears that Trump and Modi are rather unbothered by this escalation. Trump said that the incident was “up to India” to handle and that Modi had worked “really hard” to ensure religious freedom, while Modi simply addressed the matter through one tweet. Although both Trump and Modi claim to be teetotalers, to me at least, they always look drunk (perhaps on power). After all, how can a sober individual tell so many lies, so shamelessly, and bully his critics and opponents publicly without any inhibitions? They are high on the unassailable authority each one of them wields in their respective countries and parties; the Republican party in Trump’s case and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for Modi. To ensure that they always stay cocooned within their megalomaniac personae, both are surrounded by sycophants and have ruthlessly sired a cult of loyalty and glorification around themselves. Trump’s trip to India only helped prove this point.

Cameras and booming rhetoric take precedence over action for both heads of state who apparently share a fetish for being cheered on by mammoth crowds of adoring and adulating followers, as evidenced by the “Namaste Trump” event. Regardless of their highly embellished talk of “Make America Great Again” and “Make in India”, both have used countries hostile to their own to help manipulate the voting masses and thus stay in power. While Modi and his political machinery openly uses Pakistan repeatedly to distract the focus of the Indian masses from the real issues plaguing India, Trump apparently has no shame in taking Russia’s help under the table while presenting Iran as the great external threat to the west.

Although Trump’s India visit did not result in a signing of the much talked about trade deal, the simple truth of the matter is that as far as Trump and Modi are concerned, the trip achieved its objective – boosting the egos of both the leaders. Trump knows that the pictures of him speaking to thousands in Ahmedabad will play well with his vote bank back home. Modi, having already won the election last year, needed this overly zealous show of support from Trump to try to silence those in India who have continued to be critical of many of Modi’s recent polices. Hence, the riots in Delhi couldn’t dampen the mood of either leader.

Both Trump and Modi boast of their physical strength like bullies in grade school and unabashedly accuse others for their nations’ ills. Trump points his finger at immigrants from Latin America and Muslim majority countries while Modi aims his accusations at non-Hindus in India, particularly Muslims. It is not surprising, therefore, when they excuse violence and vitriol against all those who are not interested in joining their respective fan clubs. Nothing showcases this more clearly than Charlottesville for Trump, and the unabated attacks on Muslims and the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) for Modi.

Notwithstanding the distance between their geographies and differences in their respective families and backgrounds, both have shown little respect for women too. Trump has demonstrated it repeatedly throughout his life by how he speaks about and uses women. Modi has demonstrated this by how little he has done to aggressively pursue rapists and deal with the increasing rapes and assaults against women, with many claiming that the rape crisis has worsened during the Modi regime. Another remarkable similarity between the two men is their practice of belittling others to attain self-aggrandising and grandstanding imperatives for their nationalistic autocracies.

Yet, despite having so much in common, their respective regimes have had different impacts on their economies. Trump inherited a rising economy from his predecessor which has continued to improve under him. In fact, that is going to be one of his major selling points during this election cycle in the United States. On the other hand, in India, the exact opposite has occurred under Modi as the juggernaut Indian economy now finds itself facing an economic slowdown which will have far-reaching effects. While Modi may choose to bury his head in the sand when it comes to addressing the Delhi riots, shouldering responsibility for the Indian economic downturn is unavoidable.

The president and the prime minister have created vicious divisions among their peoples only for their personal benefit, but in the process have caused irreparable harm to the social fabric of the countries they lead. Whether Trump and Modi realise it or not, the negativity their words and actions breed have global ramifications. Adolf Hitler’s rise in Germany before World War II hinged on a manufactured fear of physical and economic harm his brigades of hooligans created among those who disagreed with him. Modi and Trump have succeeded in using the same tools to threaten and scare their opponents while the majority, just like in that era, choose to stay silent. If they continue to do so, it will be at their own peril.

Charanjeet Singh Minhas

Charanjeet Singh Minhas

The writer is an American and the founder and CEO of Tekstrom Inc., a leading software testing company. He is also the chairman of Delaware Sikh Awareness Coalition and an active organiser of peace, cultural and interfaith events.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.