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India: Hindu nationalists rally for Trump

Monday 17 October 2016, by siawi3


October 16, 2016 06:14 IST

Jeremy W. Peters

PHOTO: PTI: A GOP Hindu coalition says nominee is for development, prosperity and tremendous job growth.

Your typical Trump rally this was not.

First there was the ritual Hindu fire, a yagna, which burned in his honour. Then there were the posters, standard Donald Trump head shots except for a touch of artistic interpretation: a tilak, the red dot symbolic of the spiritual third eye in Hindu culture, smudged on his forehead.

This celebration of Mr. Trump in New Delhi in May, and others like it in India this year, are the work of a small, devoted and increasingly visible faction of Hindu nationalists in India and the U.S. who see Mr. Trump as the embodiment of the cocksure, politically incorrect, strongman brand of politics they admire.

Parallels with Modi

That some of Mr. Trump’s most passionate followers are Indian may seem, at first, somewhat strange, given how fond he is of scorning Asian countries where cheap labour saps demand for American workers. A poll on Asian-Americans’ political leanings conducted in August and September found that just 7 per cent of Indian-Americans said they would vote for Mr. Trump.

But, Mr. Trump has unwittingly fashioned a niche constituency in the overlap between the Indian right and the American right.

“There’s a lot of parallels there,” said Shalabh Kumar, founding chairman of the Republican Hindu Coalition. “Mr. Trump is all about development; prosperity; tremendous job growth. And at the same time, he recognises the need to control the borders.”

As one of Mr. Trump’s biggest Hindu financial backers, Mr. Kumar, who runs an electronics manufacturing company in Illinois and grew up in the state of Punjab, has helped organise a speech by the Republican nominee in Edison, New Jersey, at a concert on Saturday.

Mr. Trump may be largely indifferent to the reasons behind his Hindu loyalists’ fervour, but his most senior advisers are not. The campaign’s chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, is a student of nationalist movements. Mr. Bannon is close to Nigel Farage, a central figure in Britain’s movement to leave the EU, and he is an admirer of India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist.

It may be pure coincidence that some of Mr. Trump’s words channel the nationalistic and, some argue, anti-Muslim sentiments that Mr. Modi stoked as he rose to power. But it is certainly not coincidental that many of Mr. Trump’s biggest Hindu supporters are also some of Mr. Modi’s most ardent backers.

Manu Bhagavan, who teaches South Asian history at Hunter College, said the Hindu nationalist movement in India and its devotees in the U.S. shared a belief that what was once pure and virtuous about Indian life has been tainted.

“They locate this in a grand Hindu past,” he said. “If you go before Muslims entered India, before all these foreigners came in and messed things up, Hindus could do this, Hindus could do that.” The response, Mr. Bhagavan said — whether in India, the U.S., Britain or any of the countries experiencing a convulsion of anti-globalism right now — is “let’s barricade ourselves in.” — New York Times News Service