Narendra Modi, we’re being told in a glib new outbreak of ‘pundit-itis’, is just like Donald Trump, the flashy, proto-fascist American huckster who’s mouthing his way to the presidential nomination of the Republican Party.
Trump is only the latest ‘strongman’ with whom Modi has drawn comparison. Remember when he was likened—shortly after the BJP’s victory in 2014—to Vladimir Putin? More exotic minds reached for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish pasha-president, as their choice of analogy. Others, striving hard for originality, invoked Ariel Sharon. A few even saw in him some shades of Shinzo Abe. (Let’s ignore, here, those many hyperbolists who continue to compare Modi to Hitler.)
Those making the Trump-to-Modi parallel don’t intend to pay Modi a compliment, of course. None of the other comparisons, mostly made by the Indian Left, were meant as commendations either. In likening Modi to Trump, writers set out to diminish Modi. The columnist Dilip Bobb, for example, seeks to do just that in the latest issue of Outlook magazine.
Malign motives aside, it is misguided to compare two men who are one-of-a-kind. Trump is a political freak: He has darted onto America’s public stage like a rabid wolf, setting off a panic amid America’s bhadralok. He says things that are not said in polite company—hell, he says things that are often said only sparingly in impolite company. That stuff about Mexicans being rapists — uttered by Trump at a packed public rally, and captured on film for the ages — is the sort of toxic garbage that plumbs depths even lower than those reached by, say, a Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti (whose ‘Ramzada /haramzada’ line at least showed some linguistic flair, its poison notwithstanding).
I’m not going to go for a point-by-point refutation of Mr Bobb’s piece, which is riddled with the kind of analogical superficiality that would allow us — if we were so inclined — to say that India is just like the United States because both countries were once ruled by Britain and both, today, have nuclear weapons.
Set aside the absurdity of comparing the gaudy American heir to billions with an Indian man who sold tea as an impoverished teenager (even allowing for an element of myth-making and hagiography). Modi is a man who emerged as an ascetic apparatchik from a disciplined organisation, and grew into a leader with an adamant vision for India. He heads a party that has revolutionised Indian politics and consigned the Indian National Congress to the scrapheap. In fact, Indian politics to date should be seen as a thing of two phases: A.M. and B.M., After Modi and Before Modi.
Trump has no political organisation. He is a lone, unlovely meteor streaking across the American sky. His love for America is showy and obsessional, and it comes at the expense of the world beyond America’s borders. He has railed against China, Europe, Mexico, the Islamic world, and even against Japan, a treaty ally of the United States. (Remarkably, he has had kind words for India.)
Modi, by contrast — and for all his Hindutva — has been the most internationalist Indian PM since Nehru. He has fought hard to find India a seat at the Top Table, pushing the country into closer, stronger relations with those from whom it can draw comfort and security. True, he professes, like Trump, to wish to make his country great again. But to say that he’s an Indian Trump is to attempt a fraud. I can think of no man more unlike The Donald than Narendra Damodardas Modi.