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Global Indians: The ‘Modi factor’ and the Trump-II Presidency

Virendra Pandit 

New Delhi: As America votes on November 3 to elect or re-elect the next President, many in the influential Indian-American community appear gravitating to vote for the incumbent, Donald Trump, despite the Democrats’ attempts to woo them on issues like the candidacy of Kamala Harris, and the H1-B visas.

Is Trump as popular in India in the early 2020s the way John F. Kennedy was in the early 1960s?

Trump, 74, has been one of the most controversial—some say the most controversial—Presidents in US history.

But one thing distinguishes him from other time-server US Presidents: he carries no ideological baggage the way most of his predecessors did. He represents the true, ideology-free America whose business has always been business. Nothing more, nothing less.

In fact, ideological affinity, which defined the policies and politics of the US and most other countries—dictatorial as well as democratic—has diluted beyond recognition since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Even China, the “communist’ successor to the erstwhile USSR (now Russia), is merely a camouflaged capitalist, authoritarian, expansionist, and racist country.

Also, in the Muslim world, we now see the Arab versus the non-Arab blocs, headed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, respectively.

Cutting the clutter, the credo of the 21st-century politics and business is simple: ‘What do you bring to the table to benefit us?’

Clearly, the hazy concept of ‘ideological affinity’ has since been dislodged and replaced by the real politick of national interest across the world.

Not only Trump but also many of his contemporaries—Narendra Modi in India, Boris Johnson in the UK, Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, to name a few—have emerged as equally unconventional leaders in their respective countries.

They are ideology-free and brimming with national interests. Unburdened with the past, they represent strong nationalist sentiments in an era where the curve of ‘globalization’ can rise no further. Modi’s “India First” and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” policies represent this new drive.

It is here that the ‘Modi factor’ assumes importance in the November 3 Presidential sweepstakes in America.

Because of this unseen nationalist undercurrent, and despite a vicious campaign mounted by the short-sighted and self-appointed liberals, democrats, and seculars, Modi went from strength to strength between 2014 and 2020; the same happened in the UK where Johnson won the election in 2019. No wonder if a similar, invisible undercurrent pushes Trump back into the White House to take oath on January 20, 2021, for a second term.

Most of the Indian-Americans, who number about 4 million, have supported Modi, who was denied even a US visa from 2002 to 2013 by successive US Presidents. It was because of them that the “Howdy Modi” roadshow in Houston in September 2019, and the “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in February 2020, were such so successful.

Both Trump and Modi have been political miracles who suddenly emerged in 2014 and 2017, respectively, by vanquishing ideological shibboleths, dynastic politicians, and status quoist Establishments. They are not routine, run-of-the-mill politicians but disruptive forces of Change.

The Indian-Americans have, apparently, read the writing on the wall, although the Democrats have tried to wean them away from Trump by nominating one of them, Kamala Harris, as the running Vice Presidential mate of their Presidential nominee Joe Biden, 77. In all, the Indian-Americans and their various organizations have endorsed 23 candidates in the general elections, including Biden and Harris.

Most of these Indian-Americans remain patriotic who advocate and advance India’s interest in America. They look for the best candidate who could really do India substantial favors rather than pay merely lip-service.

For example, Hemant Bhatt of New Jersey, a member of the “Indian Voices for Trump Coalition Advisory Board” is clear about his objectives. He was part of Trump’s India visit, the “Chalo Gujarat” program, and says that a better; Indian-American representation in the US Congress and the Trump Administration could ensure India’s protection against China, media reports said.

Another influential Indian-American Sunny Gaekwad, a hotelier, knows the importance of being in the right place at the right time. “If you are not on the high table, you end up on the menu!” The Indian-Americans must be in the government, or any dictator could throw them out as happened in Africa, he added.

M Rangaswamy, Founder and Chairman, Indiaspora, says: “We are 7 percent of US physicians, 10 percent of American IT, well represented in academia, so why not have clout.” Citing the Jewish community, he said this minority of 2 percent of the US population has 10 percent representation in the Congress.

On his part, Trump has often showered encomiums on India and Modi. Unlike his predecessors, who parroted the hangover of the Second World War and the Cold War, he may have seen through the new, challenging realities. Unlike Obama, Clinton, or the Bushes, who were all professionals, Trump, being a businessman, carefully does market studies and due diligence before embarking upon a project.

He is aware of what lies beyond the horizon of the present. And why a new discourse, a paradigm shift, is needed in world affairs.

His latest project, therefore, is to cobble together an ‘Asian NATO’ against China. With Brexit, the slow disintegration of the European Union, a NATO member Turkey virtually breaking away to resurrect the Ottoman Empire a century after its death, the Belgium-based NATO is a pale image of its former self. In the absence of the Soviet Union, it has lost many of its teeth, particularly after the USSR-free Eastern and Central European countries also became members of the fading security alliance.

The ‘Asian NATO’, likely to become a reality next year—irrespective of whether he returns to the White House—will be the lasting legacy of the Trump era.

As a prelude to this, the US President has already put together what is now known as Quad—the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—between the US, India, Australia, and Japan, for their common security against China in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Not only for Quad, a majority in the Indian-American community is likely to vote for Trump also because of Biden’s own doubtful record. He refused to share Trump’s strong views on China’s culpability in the Covid-19 pandemic. His statements have been seen as more pro-Pakistan and pro-China, although, in August 2020, he tried a course-correction: to clean up the mess of his own making, he extended a ‘full-throated support” to India against China.

Trump’s triumph would also herald a restructuring of narrative for the 21st century and realign global forces.