Trump an American Modi? No way, say NRIs

By Rajiv Shah
A tweet the other day by a well-known America-based political scientist, Milan Vaishnav, amused me. Associated with the think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which has research centres in Beijing, Beirut, Brussels, Moscow, and Washington, he quantified what I had witnessed during my recent US visit: Though he has been called “American Modi” by many in India, Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump isn’t quite liked by NRI Modi supporters.
Impossible to dub him a “left liberal” by any stretch of imagination (he supports market reforms), Vaishnav’s tweet said, “Reminder: Upwards of 80% of Indian-Americans vote Democratic.” That was in response to a story in “The Hindu”, “Indian-Americans for Trump? Only a handful”.
Though I haven’t ever met or interacted with Vaishnav except through Twitter, his commentaries have interested me. In one of the latest ones, published in “Foreign Affairs”, he says, “The challenge for Modi is to use his considerable political capital to convince the electorate—not to mention skeptics within his own party—that pro-poor and pro-market are two sides of the same coin.”
At the same time, he underscores what many intellectuals in India have long been saying, that “Modi appears unable to rein in elements of his party that perpetuate the worst of its hard-line traditions, and the fact that members of his cabinet have often vocally backed fringe positions suggests that he is also unwilling to do so.”
I decided to ask him through a tweet: “Is it true that NRIs support Modi but oppose Trump, ironically described as US Modi?” His reply was: “Hard to generalize, but only a minority likely (to) support Trump; not sure if we have any data on pro/anti-Modi views of NRIs”.
I had gone to the US on a personal visit, spent time with my children, one of whom is a software engineer, and the other is pursuing PhD in engineering. It was great relaxing and interacting with their young and old friends, many of whom (though not all) are non-resident Indians. Quite often, Trump and Modi were topics of discussion. One of those whom I met was an unassuming Gowri Goli, an IT buff, who has lately turned into an NRI film producer.
Goli, who has finished his feature film “Spices of Liberty”, is currently involved in promoting it – I attended one such promotional evenings. An interesting person to talk to, I decided to reconnect with him. I sent him a somewhat provocative email: “On being back to India, I found Indian media making an interesting comparison, between Modi and Trump, pointing towards huge similarities between the two. Do NRIs agree?”
Belonging to Andhra Pradesh and an American citizen, Goli’s immediate reaction was, “Is it? So silly”, and then he went on describe what he thinks of Trump. Compared to Modi, he said, “This guy (Trump) is rich and famous and has lot of lavish habits.” Gowri added, only “rich Indians” like Trump because they think he will give tax break for the rich; however, these rich Indians “don’t vote… They are many of them around…”
Another person whose reaction I sought is an old family friend, Paramita Bhatt, currently attached with the Art of Living (AoL) near New York. Bhatt had come to Delhi for the recent AoL event, and I enjoyed her Facebook posts. I asked her the same question, and this is what she told me in an email reply: “You cannot compare Trump with Modiji at all. Trump is completely crazy and insane. He has no political experience at all. Republicans are now very scared of him of being nominated. NRI community has very high regards for our PM Modiji and it fully supports him. Lot of good work is being undertaken by Modiji, and NRIs feel he is man of action. A replica of Sardar Patel…”
I personally interacted with several other persons, but I am not using their name, as it was all oral; yet the tone was of clear rejection of Trump. One of them, a software consultant living in the US for the last few decades, told me, “I have told my family, we should prepare to pack up if Trump comes to power.” Yet another said, “It is strange. He talks one thing about Indians at one point, and a totally opposite at another place.”
Referring to the news that Trump has added India in the list of countries which have taken away Afro-Americans’ jobs, a young software engineer said, “I only hope he does not implement what he says. I am worried… American politicians are known to say lot of things before elections, but once they are elected, they just look the other way”, but insisted, “Trump, with such tantrums, will not win.”
More interesting was what an NRI research scientist told me about what would happen in case Trump becomes US president. He said, “There is a distinct view floating around, especially in the university where I work, that even if he is elected, it would not be easy for him to work as president. And, if he tries to implement what he says, he will surely be impeached…”
Majority of the NRI youngsters, despite their prosaic praise for Modi, seemed convinced: That Trump is not an American Modi. They didn’t accept the argument that Modi is a divisive politician, but in the same breath suggested that Trump is.
They particularly brush aside as “ridiculous” the view expressed in a section of intellectuals that both men have “gravitated to right wing, conservative political parties, the BJP in India and the Republicans in Trump’s case.” According to this view (which has already been dubbed left-liberal), “In terms of the ideology they represent, both leaders appeal strongly to that type of constituency.”
In fact, the Indian settlers’ view in America, I found, was almost similar to the immigrants from other countries. A Lebanese was our next door neighbour. A Muslim and an American citizen, who earlier lived in New York, but has now shifted to a southern state, he criticized American politicians for “whipping up such type of tension ahead of elections.”
“I am sure, Trump is not going to win. In any case, he will not get any support from the immigrants, Middle-Eastern, Latin American, Chinese or Indian. Who will vote for him after he said Muslims aren’t helping fight terrorism, or for his intention to build a wall on borders with Mexico?”, he said, adding, “These politicians say one thing before elections, but once elected have to fall in line with the system, lest they wouldn’t survive. The system is very strong here.”

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