As Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrates his 69th birthday today, it is perhaps worth pondering upon the forces that fueled his rise. While many Indian supporters of the Prime Minister are loathed to admit it, there are certain remarkable parallels between the Modi Wave and the Donald Trump phenomenon. In terms of personalities, there aren’t many similarities. But in many ways, they are the perfect representatives of their respective civilizations.
Although many Indian supporters of Narendra Modi do not like him to be associated with Donald Trump, it cannot be denied that there are great similarities between the two. Perhaps they should consider, why should they trust the same media that calls Donald Trump racist and a fascist when they don’t trust them when they call Narendra Modi the same?
It is worth considering the fact that the same forces which oppose Donald Trump in the United States are the most vociferous critics of Narendra Modi in the international scene. The same people who oppose Donald Trump are toeing the Pakistani line on Kashmir and slandering India. Under such circumstances, it is worth delving into the similarities and differences between the two world leaders and try to ascertain the reasons behind the stellar rise to power.
Narendra Modi’s election as Prime Minister was a major populist revolt in the world. It was as significant an event as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. Until results started pouring in, there were few people who really believed Trump could pull off the greatest upset in American history. The same was the case with Brexit. And when it came to Narendra Modi, not even his most ardent supporters believed the BJP could secure a simple majority in the Parliament on his own.
However, by the end, the results of each of these elections would send shockwaves across the world. The message in all these elections was one and the same: The forgotten people of this world shall be ignored no more. Far-Left American Filmmaker Michael Moore was perhaps the only Progressive who had predicted Trump’s victory. He had said in the days leading up to the polling that Trump’s election was going to be the ‘biggest f**k you’ recorded in human history.
In an iconic speech, after admitting that he personally knew a lot of Trump voters and that they were not racist but “actually pretty decent people” whose lives had been destroyed by the prevailing political establishment, Moore had said, “And it’s why every beaten-down, nameless working stiff who used to be part of what was called the middle class loves Trump. He’s the human Molotov cocktail that they’ve been waiting for – the human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives from them. And, on November 8, election day… although they lost their jobs, although they’ve been foreclosed on by the bank… next came the divorce, and now the wife and kids are gone, the car’s been repo’d, they haven’t had a real vacation in years, they’re stuck with a shitty Obamacare bronze plan where you can’t even get a fucking Percocet, they’ve essentially lost everything they had, except one thing… the one thing that doesn’t cost them a cent, and is guaranteed to them by the American constitution – the right to vote.”
The only person on the Left who truly gauged the motivation of the Trump voter, Moore went on to say, “They might be penniless. They might be homeless. They might be fucked over and fucked up. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s equalized on that day. A millionaire has the same number of votes as a person without a job. One. And there’s more of the former middle class than there of the millionaire class. So, on November 8, the dispossessed will walk into the voting booth, be handed a ballot, close the curtain, and take that lever, or felt pen, or touchscreen, and put a big, fucking “X” by the name of the man who has threatened to upend and overturn the very system that has ruined their lives. Donald J. Trump.”
He went on to add, “They see that the elites who ruined their lives hate Trump. Corporate America hates Trump. Wall Street hates Trump. The career politicians hate Trump. The media hates Trump… ‘The enemy of my enemy is who I’m voting for on November 8.’”
Finally, he concluded his outstanding speech with the words, “Yes, on November 8, you, Joe Blow, Steve Blow, Bob Blow, Billy Bob Blow, all the Blows, get to go and blow up the whole goddamned system, because it’s your right. Trump’s election is going to be the biggest ‘fuck you’ ever recorded in human history – and it will feel good.”
As is evident, the motivations of the Trump voter weren’t cultural or racism, they were primarily economic. Due to the disastrous economic policies of the establishment combined with illegal immigration, manufacturing jobs dried up and people were relegated to the status of third-class citizens in their own country. And all of this while the corrupt political establishment at Washington DC prospered. This is where the Trump phenomenon differs from the Modi Wave.
The Modi Wave was primarily about cultural concerns combined with massive corruption in the political establishment. Like the people in Rural America, Hindus in the country were relegated to the status of third-class citizens in their own country. Illegal immigration was ruining the Northeastern regions of the country, the political establishment was busy creating a mythical Saffron Terror narrative, accusing the entire Hindu community of sins it wasn’t guilty of.
Hindus were made to feel ashamed of their own heritage, secularism was only a one-way street and the political establishment was actively trying to implement a law that would pronounce Hindus guilty in every instance of communal riots due to their very identity. They were demonized and made to feel embarrassed about their identity while people who committed a genocide of Hindus were portrayed as victims and continued to enjoy state patronage. They decided enough was enough.
Hindus saw how Narendra Modi was treated by the very same political establishment which demonized them by the virtue of their identity. Despite being cleared of all accusations, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat continued to be vilified by his opponents in the political arena as well as in the media. Despite his stellar work in developing Gujarat, his achievements were brushed aside by those who had looted the country of thousands of crores.
Thus, on the 16th of May, 2014, the verdict was vengeance. People came to see Narendra Modi as one of their own, the only person in the fight who could ‘drain the swamp’. They saw the manner in which the elites hated Modi, the same people who had demonized them all this while. They saw the manner in which the corrupt, who had looted the country while keeping them in the throes of poverty, denigrated Modi’s ‘Gujarat Model’. They saw the manner in which Narendra Modi was demonized and hounded for years for a crime he hadn’t committed.
They saw the manner in which the elites in their ivory towers mocked Modi’s humble beginnings as a Chaiwaala and derided his astonishing rise to the pinnacle of the corridors of power. In Modi, they saw an individual who had defied all odds by the virtue of his integrity, hard work, and devotion. In him, they saw a weapon who could nuke the system which was out to destroy their heritage and their civilization. For over a decade, the people of Gujarat supported him in his fight and now, people of the entire country would have his back.
The Modi Wave and the Trump phenomenon, undeniably, had remarkable similarities. In a similar vein, so did the political opponents they were up against. Both, the USA and India, were ruled by a set of elites who didn’t really identify themselves with the culture of their respective countries and their own citizens. They felt not a shred of loyalty towards their own citizens, nor any empathy.
Hillary Clinton and Sonia Gandhi were the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the political establishment in their respective countries. Perceived as corrupt to their very core, their political power was entirely due to their husbands. It is a popular perception that they operated more as the head of a mafia than actual politicians. More than that, there was the widespread impression that they were ‘above the law’. Hillary Clinton did commit a series of felonies which would have landed any ordinary American in prison for life. Similarly, Sonia Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders were believed to have escaped without any consequences for the rampant corruption within the administration.
Sonia Gandhi’s son, Rahul Gandhi, the undeclared Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress party, and Hillary Clinton ran on sheer entitlement. Their entire campaigns were based on a sense of entitlement. “Vote for me because it’s my time to rule,” appeared to be the central theme of their respective campaigns. In addition to all of this, there was also the unholy nexus between their respective parties and the media.
Like Trump, Narendra Modi, too, was the anti-establishment candidate. They had to battle not only the establishment of their opposition parties but also disgruntled factions within their own. Some Indian supporters of Narendra Modi are prone to assuming that Trump is an idiot, a fool who managed to find himself in the White House due to a combination of factors, the racism of his voters and the terrible opposition candidate. They could not be more wrong.
During the course of his campaign, Donald Trump defeated the Bush dynasty, the Republican establishment, and the Clinton dynasty. He went against the media, Hollywood, Academia and even the Vatican. Google, Facebook, and every other multinational corporation tried their very best to defeat him and yet, he emerged victorious. He could not have done it without a fair amount of ingenuity. He could not have pulled off the greatest upset in American history without being a political genius himself.
Narendra Modi, on the other hand, faced much greater odds during the first decade of the century and the first couple of years of the second than during his actual campaign. By the end of 2012, it was certain that the BJP would emerge as the single largest party in the 2014 General Elections. There were only doubts about the margin of victory. However, until 2010, Narendra Modi faced as great an odd as Donald Trump, if not more. Donald Trump never faced the possibility of his entire life being destroyed, Narendra Modi did. Donald Trump never had to carry the ambitions of the American civilization on his shoulders, Narendra Modi shoulders the aspirations of a Civilization thousands of years old.
Both Narendra Modi and Donald Trump’s campaigns had remarkable similarities. Both of them ran on the promise of a New Dawn, of better times. “Make America Great Again,” was the main slogan of the Trump Campaign, “Achchhey Din Aaney Waaley Hain,” was Narendra Modi’s. Nationalism featured prominently in both their campaigns. While Donald Trump said, “We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism,” the entire campaign of the BJP screamed, “We shall not surrender this country or its people to the false song of Secularism.” For the Clinton establishment, Trump’s supporters chanted “Lock her up!” For the Congress establishment, Narendra Modi said, “Janta maaf nahi karegi.”
Despite so many similarities between the Trump phenomenon and the Modi Wave and their respective campaigns, there are fundamental differences between the two heads of governments. All of them can be summed up under the paradigm of The Rebel and The King. Needless to say, the American President is the archetypical rebel while the Indian Prime Minister is the King. Their conduct, the success they have achieved and their legacies are perfectly explained by those very labels.
Donald Trump is a rebel for obvious reasons. For decades, Trump was part of the very establishment he is now waging a war against. For years, he was a good friend of the Clintons and the political establishments of both parties. Although he had hinted at a Presidential campaign for years, there was never any indication that the policies he promised would be so much at odds with mainstream politics. He was a lifelong Democrat.
The exact moment when he decided to revolt against the system the privileges of which he had enjoyed for so long is still unclear. Some believe Barack Obama’s roast of Donald Trump at the White House Correspondent Dinner in 2011 played a part. However, it doesn’t appear likely as a lot of his opinions have remained consistent for years prior to that. But personal enmity and the repeated personal insults that Obama threw at him in the following years might well have contributed to it.
Donald Trump would often say, “I alone can fix it.” And that was because, he would say, he has been a part of the very system. “I am your voice,” he declared at the Republican National Convention. “I am with you. I will fight for you. And I will win for you.” A rebel does always stand alone.
Thus, viewed from this light, it isn’t really a surprise that Donald Trump hasn’t achieved that much success during his Presidency on his core promises. The economy is doing well and it appears almost certain that he will be reelected in 2020, however, the flagship policies he ran on haven’t yet been fulfilled. The Wall hasn’t been built yet, illegal immigration is still rampant and while he can boast of significant successes, he has only five more years in his hands at the most at the end of which things could very well go to how they were before.
That is not to say Donald Trump’s achievements are insignificant. The appointments he has made to the Supreme Court will determine the future of the country for decades to come. A bipartisan consensus is slowly developing against China. Tech Giants such as Facebook and Google have been exposed to be the greatest threat to American Democracy. The very nature of the Republican Party has undergone a tectonic shift under his Presidency. Most importantly, his Presidency exposed political correctness and progressivism for the evil ideology it is.
Having said that, Donald Trump, in many ways, has himself adopted the mantle of The Rebel quite well. More than that, there was never a chance that he could ever be anything else. He has always been a one-man army. For a long time during his presidency, he was battling opposition from within his own party. He was forced to appoint numerous individuals he doesn’t agree with to his administration. Despite all of that, not only has he managed to achieve considerable success, he has also managed to keep the USA out of more pointless wars.
While many Modi supporters would like it very much if he treated the media the same way as Donald Trump treats them, Narendra Modi’s goal is to fundamentally alter the system. Therefore, he cannot act in the same manner as Donald Trump. He has to carefully navigate the system so that he can supplant it with one that is sympathetic to his own interests. While Donald Trump’s victory was largely due to his own efforts, Narendra Modi understands that his own was the consequence of the efforts of an entire parallel system and other remarkable individuals. It was a team effort and significant credit must go to the RSS and his trusted friend and lieutenant Amit Shah and, of course, every single Karyakarta of the party. He is a leader, not a maverick. And therein lies all the difference.
It’s no wonder then that Narendra Modi has already altered fundamentally the political fabric of the country. Once he became Prime Minister, he had the unquestioned support of his own party and the RSS. While Donald Trump said “I am your voice,” Narendra Modi indicated quite clearly, “I am one of you.”
While his supporters were impatient and disappointed with the lack of action on ‘core issues’, Narendra Modi understood that as a King, he had a lot of time in his hands. And even if he could not accomplish all that he wished to during his own tenure as Prime Minister, his successor will. Therefore, he worked incrementally towards his goal. And the first major decision he took after being reelected was the abrogation of Article 370 which marked the death of Nehruvianism. And going forward, there are sufficient indications that 2024 will be won on the basis of Hindutva.
Narendra Modi has cultivated an image of himself as a statesman. He had to, because he is the archetypical King. A King doesn’t have the luxury of a maverick, he has to act carefully. And due to that very reason, Narendra Modi has achieved much greater success than the archetypical rebel. The Rebel and The King, both, have clear strategies. However, The King has much greater time in his hands to implement his tactics while The Rebel has to content himself with choosing the best possible tactic available due to a paucity of time. More importantly, The King has successors who would cement his legacy in the future should they be able. The Rebel could very well end up as merely a blip in the larger scheme of things.
Victor Davis Hanson, a retired classics professor and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, called Donald Trump a tragic hero in his book, ‘The Case for Trump’. He wrote, “Trump likely will end in one of two fashions, both not particularly good: either spectacular but unacknowledged accomplishments followed by ostracism when he is out of office and no longer useful, or, less likely, a single term due to the eventual embarrassment of his beneficiaries, as if his utility is no longer worth the wages of his perceived crudity.”
We can already see that scenario unfold before our very eyes. Donald Trump can often be seen complaining that he doesn’t receive enough praise for his great achievements. His accomplishments are not even acknowledged by the media or Academia. And yet, he carries on relentless in his endeavor. For that, he deserves much credit.
I slightly differ from the professor’s prediction about Trump’s legacy. If he wins another term, as he is most likely to, by the time he is done, Donald Trump will be regarded as the President who ushered in the Dawn of the New Era. He will not die a tragic hero but be considered a deeply flawed man who tried to do the best he could with what he had.
The Republican Party will carry forward Trump’s legacy and although the media might never acknowledge his accomplishments, primarily because he is the one responsible for exposing them for the unethical neanderthals they are, his supporters will remember him fondly and he will continue to be genuinely cherished by the people who voted him to power. Trump inspired genuine love and admiration among his followers. When he told his followers at his rallies, “You know what? I love you guys,” people felt that. That kind of love does not fade away easily.
Narendra Modi, on the other hand, will go down in history as the Founder of a New India. He will be heralded as the Prime Minister who fundamentally shifted the direction the country was heading in. He will be remembered as the Prime Minister under whose reign Jammu & Kashmir was fully integrated with the rest of the country. And quite possibly, it will be under his reign that we will have a Bhavya Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which would make India the natural home for Hindus will also be passed during his tenure.
When Narendra Modi eventually decides to hang up his boots, he will have a worthy successor to carry forward his legacy. At this moment, it appears Home Minister Amit Shah is next in line to be Prime Minister. Thus, there is little doubt that Narendra Modi will have a hallowed legacy and will replace Jawaharlal Nehru in the pantheon of the great men of independent India. Some would argue, he already has. But there are certain other deeds that need to be done to permanently bury the Nehruvian Idea of India.
It is pertinent to remember that neither Donald Trump nor Narendra Modi consciously chose to be The Rebel or The King. In more ways than one, the mantle was foisted upon them the moment they decided it was time to enter national politics. Whatever happened afterward was a natural consequence of that particular choice they made.
History also, perhaps, played their part. The West’s relationship with Monarchs ended rather badly while rebels and revolutionaries are cherished and valourized. Therefore, it was impossible for Donald Trump to be anything but a rebel. On the contrary, Indians have a great love for the Kings of yore. The greatest monarchs are still our revered heroes. They represent the ideals we wish our own politicians would aspire to. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Maharana Pratap, Samudragupta, Ashoka, Sri Krishnadevaraya, the Cholas, they are still our greatest heroes. Therefore, subconsciously, Indians still long for a King, for a strong leader. It’s no wonder then personality politics still dominate Indian politics and political dynasties are still rampant in Indian democracy.
Regardless of everything else, The Rebel and The King will determine the future of not only their own countries but the entire world for decades to come. In an era of global uncertainties, we will see much greater collaboration between the two as they seek to undermine China’s bid to establish itself as a global hegemony. Their success or failure will shape the destinies of billions of people worldwide. And it is in their shoulders that the future of the current international order now rests.