45th President of the United States of America, Donald Trump is to call Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday. India and the US are co-dependent on each other in certain fields and it only seems fit that Trump calls up PM Modi to ensure the cordial relationship keeps moving in the right direction. And if the stories of their personal rise to power indicate anything, they will probably gel well. How so? Well, both started as outsiders to a national audience with politically incorrect statements and promises, fighting against corrupt and elite incumbents, mobilising the media and then proceeding to beat it at its own game to finally take over power in two of the most diverse democracies in the world. They created a string of fear, suspicion and doubt among the masses to come to power. But that was all fair. Both tom-tommed the fact that they are cleaning up the mess before them, rooting out the rust that had taken place to make their countries great again; albeit without informing how. Both promised governments by the people and by the people only, albeit again representing themselves as icons of true governance.
Except with a minor deep-seated problem with populists, only some people are the people. Trump has said it in the past – “the only important thing is the unification of the people because the other people don’t mean anything.” Now, obviously our beloved Prime Minister is a little more politically correct but anyone remembers the “Mandir Wahin Banaenge” byte in BJP’s 2014 election manifesto? There is also this minor issue of every voice of dissent being termed as ‘anti-nationals’.
Robin Hoods in denial
Also, both the leaders complain about the elite (that 1% corrupt in India) and the many others in the USA. PM Modi is known to be friendly to industrialists, even featuring on front page ads of private companies. And Trump has simply been a crony capitalist all his life. By doing so, they have created a “Robinhood” stature in the society thus making the oversimplification of important issues such as economy making it a mere slogan for people to chant (demonetisation).
Autocracy in democracy
Both the leaders have also somehow created a system of centralisation in the political parties they represent. Trump rose to power within the party decimating every other person who opposed him, while PM Modi has been more tactical in his approach. Modi remains the face and the only face of the BJP, whereas several leaders of the same stature had existed before.
‘In your face’ politics
According to the New Yorker- “Populist politics is often constructed from a blend of nativism, bigotry, grandiosity, and coarse speech”. It, however, does possess a certain intimacy in its narrative. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued the ban on Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, he made sure that you knew about it. You might not own a TV, but Modi reached out to your pockets and made sure you felt it. Trump has followed a different pattern to the same effect with his Twitter feed. “Americans wake up every morning to hear the President’s unpredictable voice in their news feeds—exhorting, bragging, promising, ranting, bullying”. And while most of its remains to be a rant for having a distasteful lunch, you still feel his influence in your life.
And while both the leaders seem sympathetic to the controversial problems faced by the people, they hardly speak about it. Trump does throw in a tweet once in a while stinking of bigotry, but Modi has made sure that his public persona doesn’t involve the crudeness of misogyny or sexism. Although, our esteemed leader has not even once spoken about the plight of the LGBT community. He has promised to increase women security following the heart-wrenching acts of crime committed against them but has seldom spoken against his often outright sexist cabinet. The USA faces the same problem as India, although only with the people who are not white (millions, btw) but president Trump sees building a wall as a healthy alternative.
Nationalists without a cause
Both leaders are extremely religious, often mistaking mythology for history and science (Ganesha’s plastic surgery and abortion laws), have portrayed a strong affection fo their inbuilt sense of nationalism and the army that protects its borders, often ignoring the crimes committed in the process.
Last but probably the biggest similarity between the two leaders is their habit to speak directly to the public, making them believe that they belong, their voices were heard, ignoring the parliamentary systems in place and a belief that “we know what’s best for business”. People, we are in middle of an era involving two of the most powerful authoritarian governments in recent memory.