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The Trump-Modi Lovefest: a Hideous Pseudo-Event

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

Donald Trump is back in the US from his trip to India. His visit overlapped with some of the time I spent in Delhi, and watching the saturation media-coverage of the visit was in turns painful (because of the grotesquerie on display) and an absolute hoot (again, because of the grotesquerie on display).

There was much ceremony, accompanied by Trump’s usual disjointed speech with the usual botched pronunciations, and mirth-inducing staged events that were possibly the work of a contemporary but hidden Charlie Chaplin.

Ahmedabad (the city where he attended a Namaste Trump rally in his honour) became “Ababaad”; namaste became “namuste”; India’s greatest modern cricketer Sachin Tendulkar became “Soochin”; a reference to Narendra Modi’s humble origins as a chaiwallah (street tea-seller) saw the chaiwallah-turned-prime minister become a “cheewallah”; Gujarat, Modi’s home state, was “Gujaat”; the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, became the “Vestas”; the famous spiritual leader Vivekananda was “Vivekamunand”; and this is just a sample.

Modi had begun proceedings at the rally by praising a certain “Dolan Trump”, so perhaps Trump thought he could out-do his host by flaunting his well-known repertoire of pronunciational blunders.

Trump’s stumbles over the simplest of names were a bonanza for trolls on Indian social media– truly, the Covfefe Curse follows that orange fellow around the world!

Security at the stadium in Ahmedabad included a squadron of 40 police officers mounted on camels.

The Village People’s “Macho Man” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones were among the musical items exploding from the stadium’s public address system.

The biggest cheer in the stadium came when Trump said the US and India were united in accepting the need to “defend ourselves from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism”.

Someone should have reminded the audience that many more Americans die each year from domestic gun violence than they do from “radical Islamic terrorism”.

Trump’s administration has said nothing about the BJP’s anti-Muslim ideology, and Trump himself refused to comment directly on the mayhem caused by Hindu nationalist mobs which attacked at least 10 Muslim neighbourhoods, where peaceful protests against the CAA were taking place.

In a news conference shortly before his departure from India Trump was asked about the violence, and said the issue was “up to India”, while also praising Modi’s “incredible” statements on religious freedom.

In sharp contrast, Trump’s administration has been vocal about China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims, as well as blacklisting 8 Chinese companies whose products are used in the surveillance of Uighurs. Trump’s order bans US companies from exporting high-tech equipment to these firms.

So far 43 people have died from the violence, and hundreds more have been injured. Houses, shops, cars, and mosques have been gutted in these attacks.

There has been brutality on both sides, but all media reports confirm that the victims were overwhelmingly Muslim. Muslim men were asked for their IDs, and if these were not produced, their trousers were ripped off to see if they were circumcised (circumcision being required of Muslim men).

As with previous attacks on 2 universities with a reputation for being leftwing— Jamia Milia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University—the police were fully complicit with the Hindu mobs.

Police officers joined in the attacks, ambulances were prevented by the police from aiding the victims, and calls to police stations for help were ignored.

A video, authenticated by fact-checking organizations, is being circulated on social media, showing blood-bespattered Muslim men injured from police beatings being forced to sing the national anthem and patriotic songs while they prostrate themselves on the ground.

A Delhi judge who criticized the police and the BJP government’s handling of the crisis over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was packed-off to another state.

The CAA came into law in December last year, and provides a fast-track to citizenship for refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who sought refuge in India prior to 2015. The CAA excludes Muslims, while including Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi refugees.

The Delhi high court judge Justice S. Muralidhar, in addition to criticizing the police, also called for an official investigation of BJP politicians who were inciting violence. Muralidhar was transferred to another state court the same day in a late-night order, in what many regard as a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

Modi has responded to the violence by making a quite underwhelming and utterly inconsequential appeal for “peace and brotherhood”.

If history repeats itself– the precedent here is Modi’s time as chief minister of Gujarat when 1000 people, 800 of them Muslim, were killed in communal riots in 2002, while Modi was accused of turning a blind eye to the violence (later, a judicial commission cleared him of “collusion” with the rioters)–he will lie low for a while before resuming his old Hindu-nationalist tricks.

Modi has never expressed regret for the Gujarat pogrom, and it is unlikely that he will do so this time.

Meanwhile, after the Namaste Trump rally, Trump and his entourage visited the Gandhi ashram, where they had high tea. Gandhi was a vegetarian, so meat could hardly be served at the ashram meal. Trump, on the other hand, eats little apart from beefburgers, well-done steaks, and ice cream. Something had to give.

Despite the ashram chef’s best efforts to lay on a non-meat meal containing dishes that would be familiar to Trump (such as chocolate-chip cookies and apple pie), neither he nor Melania touched anything from the main part of the menu.

This included samosas stuffed with broccoli and sweetcorn (instead of the traditional potatoes and peas), which led to the hapless chef being flayed in the Indian media for this heretical deviation from the samosa’s traditional ingredients.

Trump was staying at the Taj hotel in Delhi, which assigned to the Trump entourage a chef who could cook the desired burnt meats to order, as well as having a good supply of cherry vanilla ice cream and Diet Coke.

Meanwhile back home Trump’s diet was also making news.

His previous White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, said he hid ice cream from his corpulent client and had to mix-in cauliflower with the president’s mashed potatoes, in a vain attempt to do something about Trump’s obesity.

Didn’t Jackson realize he could do the many Americans harmed by Trump’s policies a favour by adding heaps more double-cream and butter to Trump’s mash, in the hope that clogged arteries and their ramifications might precipitate a speedier ending to the latter’s term -of- office?

Apart from a weapons deal involving the purchase of 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from the US, to the tune of $3bn, nothing of substance was accomplished during Trump’s visit. India however continues to get most of its military hardware from Russia—India having just agreed to buy Moscow’s $5.4bn S-400 missile defence system despite the threat of US sanctions.

Moreover we have no idea if Ivanka and husband Jared (“Javanka” in the words of Steve Bannon), who tagged along, were making business deals for themselves while Daddy preened himself before fawning pro-Modi supporters.

The notion that this is the era of a “post-truth” politics was confirmed over and over by the patent falsehoods Modi and Trump uttered about each other and their respective countries.

Modi:

+ “The leadership of President Trump has served humanity”.

+ “The whole world knows what President Trump has done to fulfil the dreams of America”.

Trump:

+ “India’s rise as a prosperous and independent nation is an example to every nation in the world and one of the most outstanding achievements of our century…. [Y]ou have done it as a democratic country. You have done it as a peaceful country. You have done it as a tolerant country”.

+ “There is all the difference in the world between a nation that seeks power through coercion, intimidation and aggression, and a nation that rises by setting its people free and unleashing them to chase their dreams. And that is India”.

+ “This is truly an exciting time in the United States. Our economy is booming like never before. Our people are prospering and spirits are soaring. There is tremendous love, tremendous like. We like and we love everybody”.

As I was writing this piece, Andrew Bacevich wrote an article in CounterPunch in which he makes excellent use of Daniel Boorstin’s notion of a “pseudo-event” to characterize any number of Trump’s public performances. To quote Bacevich:

“Of course, almost all of these are carefully scripted performances that are devoid of authenticity. In short, they’re fraudulent. The politicians who participate in such performances know that it’s all a sham. So, too, do the reporters and commentators paid to “interpret” the news. So, too, does any semi-attentive, semi-informed citizen”.

Pseudo-events are designed to camouflage an underlying reality, and this was evident during Trump’s visit to India, and particularly so because he had in Modi a more than willing accomplice when it came to constructing this particular pseudo-event (or set of such events).

No other Asian leader, not even a US lackey such as Japan’s Shinzo Abe, and certainly none of his European counterparts (not even the New York-born Boris Johnson), would be up for a reciprocal pseudo-event construction of this magnitude.

Granted that India is more of democracy than the US, but none of this can be credited to Modi (it was mainly the doing of Nehru’s Congress Party), and for Trump to overlook India’s caste-ridden social system, massive economic inequalities, creaking bureaucracy (many Indians refer to this as “babudom”), and Modi’s Hindu chauvinism, while uttering banalities about “leadership”, “good friends”, “Islamic terrorism”, and so forth, is camouflage-construction par excellence on Modi’s behalf.

Likewise, Modi’s “great leader” and “servant of humanity” paeans when addressing Trump are impossible to square with the latter’s innumerable personal shortcomings and all-too-visible failings as a political leader, and this along with Modi’s pandering estimation of today’s crumbling American empire, merely enables a parallel camouflage-construction on Trump’s behalf.

The only non-pseudo-event surrounding Trump’s visit were the above-mentioned killings by Hindu-supremacist mobs– egged on by BJP politicians such as Kapil Mishra under the noses of the police, all caught on video.

With regard to this pogrom, the normally verbally-incontinent Trump bit his tongue.

More articles by:

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

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