FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Trump in Modi’s India

Badge worn by supporters of Jamia protesters. Photo: Kenneth Surin.

I’ve been in New Delhi for over a week, attending a conference organized by the Muslim-majority Jamia Millia Islamia University. Jamia has been a focal-point of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which came into law in December last year.

The CAA provides a fast-track to citizenship for refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who sought refuge in India prior to 2015. The CAA does not however include Muslims, while including Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi refugees.

Every non-Muslim Indian I spoke with at the conference said the CAA is patently discriminatory, and also violates India’s constitution, which stipulates that citizenship cannot be linked to religion.

Trump, accompanied by three members of his grifter family (daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared, with Melania tagging along as the perpetual afterthought) arrived for a state visit on my last day in India.

The routes taken by Trump’s motorcade were lined by hundreds of billboards with slogans such as “two dynamic personalities” (hardly describes Trump with the oodles of “executive time” he takes to watch Fox News and the aeons he spends on golf courses), “great democracies” (with two leaders doing their best to undermine those democracies), and so on.

In addition to Delhi Trump was also due to visit Ahmedabad, taking in Gandhi’s ashram near the latter.

Gandhi’s reputation is at a bit of an ebb in Hindu-nationalist India. He is deemed by more extreme nationalists to have been too “pally” with Muslims, and there are web-sites in India which glorify the memory of Gandhi’s ultra-nationalist and Muslim-hating assassin.

So is the decision of the Modi government to take a palpable scoundrel and rake like Trump to Gandhi’s ashram perhaps an ever-so-subtle attempt to besmirch further the reputation of the Mahatma by having the orange-hued villain set foot in a place revered by many Indians?

In any event, the slums en route to the ashram were shielded from Trump’s eyes by the simple expedient of building a tall wall.

An Indian academic joked with me: “Trump finally got his wall, courtesy of the Indian government, but not where he wanted it!”. An aside: “India paid for Trump’s wall, not Mexico!”.

Attempts to foster Trump’s aesthetic sensibilities are not being confined to wall-building around a slum.

Trump held a rally before going on to the Taj Mahal. He bragged that the crowd in a stadium with a capacity of 110,000 was “the biggest ever”. Someone should have reminded him that the crowd at Gandhi’s funeral was estimated at over 2 million.

When Trump visited the Taj Mahal, fresh water was pumped into the Sabarmati River in Gujarat and the Yamuna River in Agra, to produce the comforting impression that these usually noxious, sewage-filled, and malodorous rivers are anything but that.

The Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Emperor Shah Jahan, though the Islamophobic Trump might have overlooked this because he probably thought it was built by Disney India.

Petty political gestures are not alien to Trump and Modi. Melania Trump was due to visit a school in Delhi with an innovative “happiness curriculum”. Delhi state is governed by the AAP, which trounced Modi’s BJP in recent state elections, and its chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia were due to welcome Melania Trump at the school (the curriculum had been introduced by the AAP government in 2018).

US officials informed Kejriwal and his deputy they had been dropped from the invitation list a couple of days before the visit, which had been organized by the US embassy. Modi’s office offered no comment, but it is clear the BJP central government had put pressure on American officials to exclude Kejriwal and Sisodia from the event.

Trump’s popularity in India far exceeds the ratings he gets in polls conducted in the US. A Pew Research poll conducted here shortly before his visit showed that 56% of those polled expressed “confidence” in Trump, almost matching the 58% achieved by Obama just before he left office.

The Times of India says of the Pew survey:

“As more Indians become familiar with Trump, his popularity is on the rise, says the survey, attributing the positivity in part to the Indian right-wing, pejoratively referred to as “bhakts” in liberal circles and often compared to Trump’s MAGA base.

“Those who associate more with Indian Prime Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are more likely than supporters of the Indian National Congress opposition party to voice confidence in Trump. (Those who are closer to the BJP are also more likely to offer an opinion”, the survey says….)”.

Trump will of course get a “bigly” ego-massage from these ratings, even if their basis is provided by a section of Indian society that is less educated and often poorly informed– not that he gives a rat’s arse about this!

Trump may tweet sitting atop a kitschy golden toilet, but the much less privileged, some affected by “Shit-Life Syndrome” with only a white identity to serve as their emblem of a presumed superiority, are precisely his source of support and solace.

Incidentally, Benjamin Netanyahu is another politician popular with the Right in India, of course for his viciousness towards the Muslim-majority Palestinians.

Meanwhile the Jamia students detained by the police for protesting against the CAA are regarded as “political prisoners” by their supporters.

The protests against the CAA are continuing, and each day brings new revelations about what happened during the disturbances at Jamia and Delhi’s other well-known left-leaning university, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

The Times of India reports that 4 CCTV clips taken from the Jamia university library indicate that some Hindu-supremacist Jamia students, past and present, were with the thugs from outside campus who invaded Jamia on 15th December last year.

There had been news reports previously that the police simply stood around while students were beaten-up by the mob. The Washington Post reports that some cops joined in the attacks on students.

The Times of India article mentioned above also says that the CCTV clips show some policemen smashing CCTV cameras, presumably in a complicitous attempt to thwart the identification of rioters for later criminal charges.

Everyone I spoke with from Jamia (and JNU, see below) said it was clear the police were accomplices of the thugs on both campuses.

As mentioned, an attack by rightwing goons took place at JNU last month. Though the rioters at JNU were masked, some were recognized as members of a Hindu-nationalist student organization, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), which is the youth wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The RSS has been around for a relatively long time—it was founded 94 years ago by fervent admirers of Mussolini.

Gandhi’s assassin was an RSS member, and the flavour of Modi’s politics is conveyed by the fact that he began attending meetings of the RSS when he was 8 years old (1958), and has been a member of it for 43 years.

A gleichschaltung is taking place in Modi’s India.

The above-mentioned Washington Post article says that the Indian corporate media, with profit margins in mind, has fallen in line with the BJP, and sacked or sidelined those journalists who are critical of the BJP and its policies.

I had dinner with a Delhi-based fellow CounterPuncher. Our conversation focused on Indian politics, and touched on the CAA, due to come before the Indian Supreme Court, and Article 370 of the Indian constitution, conferring a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, which the BJP government had abrogated, and is also due to come before the Supreme Court.

My friend told me that Modi had tilted the Supreme Court towards the BJP. As if to prove him right, a couple of days after our dinner there was a media report in which Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra, speaking at a conference, called Modi an “internationally acclaimed visionary” and a “versatile genius, who thinks globally and acts locally”.

Not even US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh would go in for such colossal arse-licking and describe Trump in these terms!

Academics who are BJP stooges are being made heads of universities, and given the task of making life wretched for their leftwing colleagues.

I met a professor at the conference who has taken out 3 lawsuits against the head (Vice-Chancellor) of his university. He’s just won the first case, and is fairly confident the other two will go his way.

Towards the end of 2019 the JNU administration attempted to turn the screws on Romila Thapar, professor emerita of Ancient Indian History at JNU, and doyenne of Indian historians, by asking her for a copy of her curriculum vitae (CV), to review her status as professor emerita.

The university authorities justified the move on the bogus grounds of changes in JNU’s rules and regulations regarding the continuation of a professor emeritus after turning 75.

This is a cock-and-bull rationale.

The title “Emeritus/Emerita” is bestowed for life on scholars of sufficient accomplishment upon retirement. It is purely honorary, carries no stipend, is for achievement up to the point of retirement, and so is beyond review after being conferred (unless hitherto unknown facts establishing the gross moral turpitude of the awardee come to light after their retirement, and so forth).

(I speak as an emeritus at my American university.)

In 2003 Thapar was appointed to the US Library of Congress’s Kluge Chair. Her appointment was opposed in an online petition containing more than 2,000 signatures, on the grounds that she was a “Marxist and anti-Hindu”, and that it was a “waste of US money” to support a leftist. The Library of Congress ignored the petition, and Thapar became its Kluge Professor.

As in the US, the teaching of history in India is a frontline for rightwingers, religious bigots, and racial and ethnic supremacists, as they seek to alter the content of textbooks to reflect their warped view of the past.

Professor Thapar has not minced words by in effect telling her Hindu chauvinist critics to crawl back under their rocks, hence their antipathy towards her.

The Hindustan Times had a piece on the head of Visva Bharati University, Kolkata, Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty, who caused controversy when he described Congress Party supporters wearing Nehruvian white caps ”as the country’s biggest thieves”. A video clip has also emerged of Chakrabarty questioning protesters about their opposition to the CAA. The man is clearly doing everything the BJP requires of a university head.

Modi is foisting a version of neoliberalism on India in the name of “development”, one which has benefitted the country’s plutocracy, but done little for its working-class economically.

Modi has provided the large Hindu majority with a Muslim enemy, thereby concealing his failure to deal with the abject poverty afflicting hundreds of millions of Indians— despite revising the definition of poverty to exclude those making 26 rupees/US 36 cents or more a day, 400 million Indians live below the poverty line.

Ordinary men and women are being instigated to blame Muslims and left-wingers for their economic predicament, while Modi and his crew of scoundrels are let off the hook.

Little wonder Trump and Modi, authoritarians both, get along like a house on fire.

The day Trump arrived in Delhi there were disturbances between pro- and anti-CAA protesters, involving stone-throwing, buildings being torched, stick-wielding police charges and the use of tear gas. Four people have been killed so far, including a police constable.

The Trump-Modi love fest will float tranquilly above the fray.

Trump’s visit will conclude with a state banquet, and it will be interesting to see what will be on the menu. Trump’s staple is the beefburger, and the BJP has been playing “beef politics” since it cam to power in 2014 by fostering an anti-beef ideology.

In some cases Hindu vigilante mobs have lynched people accused of eating beef, including a tragic case in 2015 in which a Muslim man was lynched for eating what turned out to be mutton.

Part of the animus against Romila Thapar comes from her research which shows that beef eating was common in ancient India.

So will Modi, the anti-beef-eating ideologue, feed Trump his beef customary beef burger?

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

FacebookTwitterRedditEmail