Usually a call from the President of the United States of America to any country and particularly to India, the largest democracy in the world, wouldn’t be something I would write a column about. But the kind of media attention it received in India showed how starved and needy we appear to be for approval, affirmation and reaffirmation from powerful and rich nations. It has happened before. Indian media never stop telling how India was first in this or second in that or third in something else always meaning, implying or stating how it places India ahead of Pakistan, China or some other country. A little competitiveness never hurt a country. But the Indian media seem obsessed with the rankings, particularly as arranged by the rich and powerful nations of the world.
Sure the call to Prime Minister Modi by Donald Trump was the fifth he had made to the leaders of other countries; he had called only the leaders of Canada, Mexico, Israel and Egypt before making India his fifth call. But to media and a leadership of the country possessed of self confidence, being first, fifth or last wouldn’t and shouldn’t matter. But no. The media felt it was worth repeating ad nauseam. All major media establishments were guilty of it. They all made a point of explicitly spelling out how India was called before China, Russia and several others.
In all of this the media made no mention of the fact that Trump, with his campaign under investigation for improper links with Russia, wouldn’t want to be seen to be in any rush to call Putin. His relations with China had already suffered a setback, either deliberately caused or because of the same foolishness that makes him relitigate the crowd size at his inauguration or his ludicrous claim that millions people fraudulently voted[for which there is absolutely no proof] to deny him the victory in the popular vote. And conveniently the media ignored the fact that Modi has almost Pakistanised India into the lap of US foreign policy. But what the heck! Let’s celebrate: Trump called Modi before Putin, Xijinping and any of the European countries was how it went down.
It was reported that Trump told the Prime Minister that “the US considers India a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world”. No wonder here since USA is one of India’s major –foreign policy partners; he also said he “had great confidence in India”–nothing more than the bromides the readouts of the leaders’ conversations are usually replete with.
Something else caught my eye and angered the Indian in me and even more so, the secular Indian. What struck me were the following words in the NDTV report on the matter [and I didn’t see it anywhere else]: “Generations of Hindu and Indian Americans have strengthened our country. Your values of hard work, education and enterprise have truly enriched our nation.” Last October at the Hindu Republican Coalition fundraiser he had promised that in the Whitehouse he will be a friend of “Hindu and Indian community”. And wouldn’t it be absurd if India started referring to the people of the USA as “Christians and the Americans?”
It is not the fault of the foreigners how they describe Indians; the fault is entirely ours and ours alone. Indians abroad constantly, like automatons, telegraph to others that we are Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and of other faiths first; then Punjabis, Gujaratis, Biharis and whatever else we might be. Rarely are we Indians first in presenting ourselves. Little wonder then that non Indians including leaders continue addressing us as Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims or of other faiths. Wouldn’t it have been a wonderful riposte for Modi to stop Trump in his tracks when in their conversation he said “Hindus and Indians” to correct him:” just as you are not referred to as Christians and Americans, the people of India don’t appreciate being called Hindus and Indians. We are all Indians.” But unfortunately, we all know, Modi may have been quite comfortable being addressed by religion before country.
It is hard to blame Trump for his choice of words; I wouldn’t have expected much sensitivity and awareness from an avowed exclusionist of Mexicans and Muslim. I don’t believe he has much understanding of the American diversity, let alone any appreciation of diversity of India, an ancient nation and civilisation that has been culturally, religiously, ethnically, linguistically and racially diverse from times immemorial.
It was clear from the White House Readout that the words “Hindu and Indian” in the reports on Modi-Trump conversation didn’t originate from the White House. That it must have come from the Indian Readout of the same conversation or some other Indian source must send shock waves through the secular and progressive India. We know Trump is at least semi ignorant. But why did the PMO feel the need to highlight Trump’s well known ignorance by repeating his words? Was it to serve the Hindutva sentiments among the diaspora and in India? If so, that is an unpardonable sin against the idea of India and its secular state. It goes to show that the Modi regime will stop at nothing to sustain and advance the Hindutva agenda.
And noticeably no one in the Indian media will take the Modi government to task for its most insensitive and dangerous act: A matter of great shame.