MANISH KUMAR | 27 JUNE, 2017
8 Similarities That Bond PM Modi and President Trump
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met President Donald Trump for the first time. And while the experts delve into the joint statement and the bear hugs for signals of a new understanding, there are many similarities between the two leaders that they, ironically, might not recognise themseves.
Eight commonalities come immediately to mind:
Criminalization of dissent
The formula that has been used by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party to which PM Modi belongs, to curb dissent is very simple: first, the government labels the people who disagree with its policies as ‘anti-nationals’. Then the party lets its spokesperson employ fake news/videos to malign the reputation of the people. Next, dissenters are put in jail under the trumped-up charges of sedition, or this or that criminal offence. Social media hysteria is created, and after taking the cue from their political masters, the vigilante groups target the people in question. A dissenting view can only be expressed at great risk of one’s personal safety and liberty. The media that is not a part of the government’s cheerleading team is harassed by using the investigative machinery of the state. Additionally, the media is discredited by labelling them as ‘presstitutes’. There are chilling similarities between what Modi’s administration is doing in India, and what has been happening in the US after the inauguration of Donald Trump.
More than 200 people who participated in the protest rally on January 20, 2017, the day Trump assumed office, have been slapped with charges of felony rioting. They face a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail, and a fine amounting to $ 25,000. Some journalists have also been charged with the same crime. Not only this, Republicans in 20 US states have passed laws, or are in the process of framing laws that would enhance the punishment for expressing dissent. One of the members of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe noted that ‘the state will try to devise ways to squash opposition and chill the will of people who are willing to face risks to their liberty to further their cause.’ If the media raises uncomfortable questions, then President Trump declares it be ‘fake news’.
The Armed forces and political gains
On the intervening night of 28-29 September, 2016, Indian army crossed the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), and carried out ‘surgical strikes’. This action, according to the government, was in response to the attack on army camp at Uri (in the state of Jammu and Kashmir) carried out by terrorists from Pakistan. What was the result of these ‘surgical strikes’? Did the attacks on Indian security personnel, emanating from across the border, stop after this retaliatory action by the Indian army? The answer is in the negative. The attacks on security personnel continue to take place on a regular basis.
What was the real gain for the government? The answer lies in the poor performance of this government after it assumed office in May 2014. The party failed to fulfil its promises made to people in its election manifesto. The government failed to provide employment to the youth of the country in adequate numbers. It also failed to meet its promise made to the farmers of the country. In its election manifesto, the party promised to fix the Minimum Support Price of agricultural produce at ‘cost+50 percent’. It reneged on this promise after coming into power. The disappointment with the government set in, and protests erupted in different parts of the country.
The government, as a result, wanted to change the narrative, and the ‘surgical strikes’ were hailed as a great success. But in reality, nothing was achieved as a result of the action of the army. The government behaved as if Pakistan had 50-60 terrorists at its disposal. Will the government, that gave shelter to Osama Bin Laden, cease to support the activities of the terrorists after losing few dozen of them? The BJP used the action by the Army for political gains, and silhouettes of army soldiers could be seen in the party posters in election bound state of Uttar Pradesh.
Similar is the case with President Trump. His administration was under investigation for alleged collusion with Russia during the presidential elections. The National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned in February 2017 for keeping Vice-President Mike Pence in dark about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. The Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from Russia investigation in March 2017. Questions related to Trump’s conflict of interest were also being raised; people wanted to see his tax returns as well. In order to deflect attention from all the negative coverage, Trump gave a green signal to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, in the early hours of April 7, 2017, into an air base in Syria. What did the US government achieve? Nothing. The Syrian air force planes were taking off from the same air base the very next morning.
Disdain for Muslims
The BJP won 312 out of 403 seats in the recently concluded elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The BJP did not field even a single Muslim candidate in state where they constitute approximately one-fifth of the total population of 20 crores. After the election results, the party had an opportunity to send a positive message by appointing a person with a clean record, who would work for the betterment of all sections of society. What did PM Modi do? Ajay Singh Bisht (Adityanath) was appointed as the Chief Minister of the state, and the long list of criminal cases that he faces include cases related to promoting enmity on the basis of religion, attempt to murder, etc. In one of his speeches, he said that if given an opportunity, we would like to install the statues of Hindu gods in every mosque.
The Government of India recently outlawed the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter from animal markets. This order was passed on the third anniversary of the government, and it will affect religious minorities, and also the poor who depend on cow and buffalo meat for cheap protein. Cow vigilante groups assault people in the name of cow protection, and needless to say, their actions seem to have sanction from the top as the assailants are rarely caught.
PM Modi was banned from entering into the US from 2005 to 2014 because of the 2002 riots under his chief ministership; the ban was lifted when he became the prime minister. He was not allowed to enter into the US according to the Immigration and Nationality Act that ‘makes any government official who was responsible for or directly carried out at any time particularly severe violations of religious freedom ineligible for a visa’.
President Trump’s disdain for the Muslims has become visible during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. His efforts to ban people from entering into US from six Muslim majority countries have been blocked by the US courts. But the administration has indicated that it would go up to the Supreme Court to fight its case.
Disregard for science
President Trump has initiated the procedure for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord 2015, which aims at limiting the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius vis-à-vis pre industrial levels. The planet has experienced nine hottest years ever in the last ten years, but according to Trump ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive’.
PM Modi’s disregard for scientific temper is of a different kind. He sees no difference between medical science and mythology, and according to him, ‘We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in Mahabharat. If we think a little more, we realise that Mahabharat says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb’.
How can one explain the elephant headed god Ganesha? According to PMModi, of course, there was plastic surgery in Ancient India. In his speech, he added that ‘we worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery’. It is laughable that he made these comments in a gathering of doctors. It must be added that one of the fundamental duties of India citizens, according to the Constitution, is ‘to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform’. What can one expect from rest of the government when the PM makes such comments?
PM Modi claimed in his election speech in December 2016 that his government has not changed ‘a comma or a full stop’ in laws related to foreign funding of political parties. In the Union Budget presented in February 2016 by Arun Jaitley, he changed the definition of the foreign company with retrospective effect. Interestingly, both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were found guilty of violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 by Delhi High Court in 2014.
Similar is the case with President Trump, who makes claims that are contrary to the available evidence. He won the electoral college by securing 304 electoral votes, but he secured approximately 2.9 million lesser number of popular votes than his rival candidate Hillary Clinton. According to him, he lost the popular vote because 3-5 million people voted illegally. There is no evidence to support his claims of voter fraud, but he repeated his claim of illegal voting on multiple occasions.
Active social media users, but with a twist
Both the leaders express their opinions via social media, but their social media activity has come under scrutiny for different reasons. Whereas the frequency with which President Trump tweets has been the focus of discussion, PM Modi’s silence on issues of critical importance have raised questions.
On September 28, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched, in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, on the suspicion that he had beef in his house. Mr. Modi, who asked for ‘moratorium on communalism’ for 10 years in his independence day speech in August 2014, remained silent for nine days. He finally spoke on Dadri lynching during a rally in Bihar on October 8, but did not outrightly condemn it. He made a reference to the speech made by the President of India in which he spoke about the values of tolerance and plurality.
Needless to say, PM Modi was active on twitter during the nine days when he remained silent on Dadri lynching. On October 1, he condoled the death of singer Asha Bhosle’s son. He could not stand with Akhlaq’s family in their grief. One must painfully conclude that the largest minority in India, the Muslims, cannot look to their elected Prime Minister in hours of tragedy. PM Modi wished the Indian cricket team before 2015 World Cup by tweeting 16 times in a matter of 13 minutes. He outlined the skills of each player (15 of them), referring either to their batting or bowling prowess.
Not only PM Modi’s inactivity on social media highlights his personality, but his activity also highlights his priorities. Swati Chaturvedi, author of the book I Am a Troll, rightly asks ‘Why does the PM alone among world leaders follow some of his country’s worst online abusers?’ One of the twitter trolls, Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, who along with his associates assaulted lawyer Prashant Bhushan in 2011, was rewarded with positon of spokesperson of the BJP in Delhi. PM Modi also met number of twitter trolls at his official residence in July 2015. It is natural that the followers of the BJP take their cue from the PM Modi, and hope for rewards in future if they acted in the same fashion as Mr. Bagga.
President Trump’s tweets have made the task of his administration difficult in recent months. After coming into power, Trump’s administration has been trying to introduce a travel ban on people from six Muslim majority countries. In its recent ruling, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals’ used one of Trump’s tweets to keep the travel ban in abeyance. One of the methods used by Trump’s staff to keep him away from twitter is to show him the news that is favourable to him.
President Trump’s 2016 campaign team is under investigation for its alleged collusion with Russia. Trump and White House officials have denied this charge on several occasions. The US President sacked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey because of the way he handled the investigations related to use of private server by Hillary Clinton. According to Trump, he removed Director Comey on the recommendation of the Department of Justice. Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, wrote the memo in which he recommended the removal of Comey. Later in his testimony to the Senate and the House lawmakers, Rosenstein declared that ‘on May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input’. Therefore, the decision to sack Comey had already been taken by Mr. Trump, and asking for a recommendation from Rosenstein was a mere formality.
There is an uncanny similarity between the behaviour of President Trump and PM Modi. On November 8, 2016, the Prime Minister announced the government’s decision to demonetise Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes. According to the section 26 (2) of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, ‘On recommendation of the Central Board (of the Reserve Bank) the Central Government may, by notification in the Gazette of India, declare that, with effect from such date…any series of bank notes of any denomination shall cease to be legal tender…’. On November 7, 2016, according to the RBI, the government ‘advised the Reserve Bank that to mitigate the triple problems of counterfeiting, terrorist financing and black money, the central board of the Reserve Bank may consider withdrawal of the legal tender status of the notes in high denominations of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000.’ Therefore, PM Modi had already decided to demonetise the notes, and asking for the recommendation from the RBI was a mere formality.
‘I alone can fix it’, declared President Trump in a campaign rally in July 2016. In his inaugural address on January 20, 2017, Trump referred to crime, poverty, and closed factories and called it ‘American carnage’, and vowed to stop it. What does his Cabinet suggest? According to the reports, his Cabinet is the richest in American history. But will the poor get attention from this administration? The healthcare bill of the Republic administration suggests that the answer is in the negative.
Former US President Barack Obama called it ‘a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America’. He goes on to add that, ‘small tweaks over the course of the next couple of weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation’ (italics mine). Can Trump ‘fix it’? As long as he cannot fix his own administration, there is no hope that he will be able to fix anything in the American economy.
PM Modi, in his 2014 campaign speeches, asked for 60 months to govern this country. After coming into office, he repeated himself in October 2014, stating that ‘they (Congress) want an account of my work…what they have done in the past 60 years. Give me 60 months and I will pull the country of all troubles’. (italics mine)
Like President Trump, PM Modi also believes that everything in India was in shambles, and only after his assumption of the PM office, everything started changing. In his address to India diaspora in Seoul in May 2014, he stated that ‘there was a time when people used to feel that what sin they committed in their past life which resulted in taking birth in India, is this what you call a country and a government, is this how the people are, let’s leave it and go somewhere else, and people did leave. Now I can say it with firm belief that intelligent people from all walks of life, renowned scientists too, even if they are earning big abroad but now they are eager and happy to come back and settle India for even lesser incomes’ (italics mine).
PM Modi has not fulfilled his promise made to the youth of this country; he has not fulfilled his promise made to the farmers of this country; cow vigilantes lynch cattle traders (for their trading activities), and common people (for their eating habits), and these vigilante groups derive their strength from their political masters, or so it seems.
(The views are personal to the writer)