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Narendra Modi © Presidencia de la República Mexicana

Don’t Compare Modi to Trump

Comparing two political personalities from two completely different nations is a herculean task.

Narendra Modi was a tea-seller before he became India’s prime minister. This is exactly why his journey to success is admired by many Indians. So in India, a nation that hasn’t even completed 100 years of independence and is still reeling from issues such as poverty and corruption, it is not difficult to understand why Modi is a celebrity.

Modi’s ideologue, which centers around right-wing ideas, partly owing to his old association with the Hindu nationalist group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has often drawn parallels with the rhetoric of Donald Trump. The US president is an anti-globalization, anti-immigrant believer, which made him an instant hit with working-class white people in America who felt deprived and underrepresented by previous administrations.

In the run-up to the US election, comparisons were made between Trump, Modi and even Vladimir Putin. What needs to be understood is whether these parallels can be drawn between two political figures that come from vastly different backgrounds but may have some common political rhetoric.

Let’s start with the similarities.

First, since 2016, the Modi government has tried to pass an amendment to the Citizenship Bill, which will now have this provision: “[P]ersons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan … shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this Act.” The government clearly excluded Muslim refugees from the list, leaving the Rohingya of Myanmar fleeing from violence finding their doors to India closed.

Trump, on the other hand, rose on the populist agenda of Islamophobia. One of his first moves as president was to temporarily ban people from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States. He has also suggested including other countries to the list, and India under Modi is more than happy to add Pakistan to it.

Second, Modi and Trump are both very strong-headed, and their administrations flex their knuckles whenever a decision doesn’t go their way. Take, for example, Modi’s sudden implementation of demonetization and Trump’s blatant attack on environmentalism and removal of federal funding for organizations that perform or support abortion. Both have extreme views in certain matters and have made sure others comply with their policies.

But what about the differences?

Trade and globalization

While Trump intends to put “America first” and protect US jobs by slowing immigration, Modi seems to be opening India’s doors to foreign trade and investment. In 2016, when British Prime Minister Theresa May visited India and offered lighter visa regulations for wealthy Indians, Modi took a stand and insisted Indian students should receive the right to work in the United Kingdom after graduating. Under Modi, foreign direct investment in India has reached $40 billion, and his flagship Make in India program is encouraging investment in certain crucial sectors like defense and the automotive industry, albeit with some controversy.

Trump has already scrapped the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and intends to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, to protect American jobs. His plan to build a border wall with Mexico could cost America $15 billion. He also plans to crack down on H1B work visas and on students seeking to stay in the US after completing their degree.

Modi, despite his right-wing politics, is still looking to open up India to the world, unlike Trump who is sneaking into his own shell.

Views toward women

Prime Minister Modi has been trying to bridge the gender divide (again, controversially), through schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Girl Child, Educate Her), which intends to increase enrollment at the secondary level in schools from 73% to 76%. Haryana, the state with the worst female child to male child birth ratio, has seen the number of girls attending school rise. Till now, no allegations have been heaped on Modi with regard to his behavior toward women.

Trump is a different story. On the campaign trail, the former reality-TV star bewildered the world when a video of him passing lewd comments about women went viral. He is known to hold bigoted views over gender equality and the rights of women. His stance on women’s reproductive rights also makes him controversial — yet another department where Modi is different from him, for he hasn’t yet presented any opinion on the matter.

Their background

Modi belongs to the other backward class in India and grew up in a lower-middle-class household. He used to sell tea at a train station to earn his living and still struggles to communicate in English, preferring to use Hindi instead. Trump, on the other hand, grew up in a wealthy family, studied at the University of Pennsylvania, and inherited a fortune and a business empire.

With zero experience in politics, Trump is an outsider. Modi, however, was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat before he became prime minister.

Focus on religion

What makes Modi most controversial is his links to the 2002 Godhra riots, when thousands of Hindus and Muslims died in three days of communal violence after a train of Hindu pilgrims was burned down in Gujarat. While Modi’s involvement in the incident has not been proved, it is necessary to note certain people in his administration and in Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled states are still alleged to pass divisive statements.

Trump’s appeal to Christian voters, owing to his stance on abortion, may have gained him followers, but the US president doesn’t base his ideas on religion. He has his biases toward Muslims, but till now his administration hasn’t undertaken any strategy that divides people communally or incites violence. Of course, America could see easily a rise in tension over race or religion, particularly with police brutality. Remember Ferguson?

Comparing two personalities from two completely different nations is a herculean task. India and the US are very different countries, even if they are the world’s largest democracies. While similarities may exist between Trump and Modi, whether their political ideas can encourage increased cooperation between them seems like a farfetched assumption. Only time will tell if India’s expansionism and Trump’s protectionism can come to a plausible conclusion.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Presidencia de la República Mexicana