Normalising Modi

Posted on January 30, 2017



American media is on a warpath. Many of our colleagues there accuse new President’s supporters of ‘normalising’ Trump. There seems little normal in President Trump’s rise to power. We know of his unusual election campaign. But here is the point. He was elected as the president of the United States, one of the best known institutional democracies with great overall record of tolerance, cultural acceptability and pluralism.

So how bad can it go? And so far we haven’t even started discussing Trump’s person and presidency. Perhaps a comparison or contrast may prove illuminating.

Has it occurred to you that those oppose ‘normalising’ Trump had no problem is doing just that when Narendra Modi was elected as India’s prime minister. Consider this. At the time of his election he was banned from entering many parts of the civilised world, including the United States. And for what reason? Because he was accused of at the very least looking the other way when Hindu extremists were busy butchering over a thousand innocent civilians in a state then ruled by him.

There are far more incriminating accounts maintained by victims, office-bearers at the time and activists like Sanjiv Bhatt and Teesta Setalvad who have thoroughly been harassed and marginalised since then. But there was evidently no qualms in immediately accepting him as the elected leader of over a billion people. Has Donald Trump ever been accused of anything even remotely similar?

And before Modi’s trolls start attacking this space as they usually do let me reiterate here that it is not a critique of India as a country. I’ll be out of my mind if I say that India is not democracy or an important nation. It is. But unlike America or European states India’s institutions did not evolve over centuries but was congealed in haste. That makes them unceremoniously prone to pressures that the West can only think of. And then Hindu right-wing extremist parties very skillfully exploited the anti-colonial, anti-imperial narrative to mask their xenophobia and anti-West agenda.

This is not very unusual. Except that the two crucial virtues that India cherishes namely democracy and secularism are Western imports. No wonder then that the RSS whose political wing BJP is supposed to be makes no bones about its openly fascist agenda.

And the mainstreaming of Modi as is not the first incident of betrayal of Indian democracy by the world’s conscience. It began with the election of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the first BJP premier of India. The party’s spin masters dubbed its Hindu extremist worldview Hindu nationalism. And the world didn’t have any problem using it. Would you buy it if the Taliban were to call themselves Pashtun or Muslim nationalist? Obviously not. And nor should you.

Now let us also compare the personal lives of Trump and Modi. Trump is a very accomplished businessmen and a television star with a degree from one of the finest business schools in the world. He also has nice family. His past two marriages might have failed but he has raised his children from those marriages well. Now look at Modi. He is single, without any issue. He has repeatedly been accused of holding a fake degree. And no other personal accomplishments so to speak.

The outrage you feel seeing Trump in the Oval Office is primarily intellectual and academic in nature. Trump made an effective use of this outrage and succeeding in winning. But those essentially were words not actions. He believes in shaking up things to enhance his country’s bargaining position. Not a crime. Even Steve Bannon, his chief strategist that he imported from Breitbart can be accused of saying, not doing, dark things.

This is America where after decades and decades of existence racist organisations like Ku Klux Klan can boast of no more than few thousand members. This is America where every freedom was fought hard for and won.

India is not America and its beautiful people deserve better. Just because they are far far away & too many doesn’t mean the world should abandon them to the fear mongering of the RSS and its offshoots. They should have seen some tough love to ensure civil liberties survived upon Modi’s election. But they got widespread acceptance instead.

So dear world’s conscience, the question is why do you have so much trouble accepting President Trump after throwing over a billion people to the wolves?

Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2017.