Nowadays, the Eastern and Western world share more similarities than ever before and recently, a phenomenon has risen to the surface of many political landscapes – populism. Being a largely reactionary political movement, a growing discontent of populations has led to a manifestation of populism. After Mr. Trump’s electoral win last January, many parallels have been drawn between him and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Both campaigns contained anti-elitist rhetoric and anti-corruption philosophies. Their similarities lie in their political tactics and ideology – populism. Mr. Modi represents a religious populist figure due to the religious makeup of India.
One of the core pillars of populism is anti-pluralism. Like Mr. Trump’s hostilities towards Hispanics and Muslims, PM Modi has a Hindu majoritarian perspective of India and is exceptionally unsympathetic to minorities. Since PM Modi was elected in 2014, Hindu nationalism has gained active momentum. Communal violence has taken a significant toll on Christians and Sikhs and even more so on Muslims, despite the making up 15% of India’s population. Violence includes lynching, threats, and attacks on places of worship. Indian authorities are notorious for not investigating attacks often led by right-winged vigilante groups such as cow protection groups. Many laws passed by the government, including the ban of cow slaughter, reflect Modi’s reluctance to condemn these acts of violence. PM Modi’s appointment of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu nationalist with anti-Muslim views, as chief minister of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, has added to the spike in anti-Muslim violence. Just as Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiment contains a populistic “others”, PM Modi has his own image of outliers within his country. PM Modi’s barbed wire fence between India and Bangladesh is there for one sole purpose: To keep the “others” out.
Mr. Modi’s visions for India’s development and Mr. Trump’s for America are compatible. Mr. Modi explained, “I am sure that the convergence between my vision for a new India and President Trump’s vision for ‘making America great again’ will add new dimensions to our cooperation.” Mr. Modi has cultivated a “Made in India” initiative as an economic vision for India to be a global manufacturing power. This initiative focuses on job creation and enhancing skills in the 25 sectors of India’s economy.
There is no denying the rapid spread and volatile nature of populism. The world is full of people with a sense of violated ownership and ant-political sentiment. Modi and Trump are prime examples of the great political bridge between the East and West. It is hard to say what will come of this leadership and even harder to say whether or not populism truly is a fight against corruption or a new form of reactionary corruption. The element of religion in India within itself can make its version of populism more deadly.