Donald Trump vs Narendra Modi: Just how similar are they

Unlike Donald Trump's ideological flip-flops, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a committed supporter of the Hindu Nationalist cause of the BJP right since he joined politics.

That day is here. Donald Trump is all set to assume office as the 45th president of the United States. An outlier whose presidential bid was dismissed by both the Right and Left, Trump has somehow managed to defy the odds and defeat a political heavyweight like Hillary Clinton. In less than a day from now, Donald Trump will be the most powerful person in the world.

The heralding of the Trump era has been met with rattled nerves among long-standing American allies like Japan and the European Union as the 70-year old threatens to shake-up decades-old alliances. On the other hand, America’s biggest rival China is bracing up for a Trump presidency with a ramping up of its arms and possibly nuclear stockpile. Trump’s provocative statements on Taiwan are making China behave as if it were about to go to war.

The writing on the wall is for everyone in the world to see. The world is going to be a more uncertain and unpredictable place past Jan 20.

However, 1.25 billion-people strong India has remained surprisingly calm through the US presidential process. Much has to do with Trump’s favorable views on India and his gushing about our popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In India, there is a perception that Modi, along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, will be among a few world leaders who Trump will get along with really well.

Why, you ask?

For starters, they have come to espouse a similar brand of right-wing politics that has often been blamed for pandering to the hard right while scapegoating minorities and immigrants (Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have been critical of unchecked immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh).

Public consultation doesn’t seem like a strong point of either of the leaders.

Both are kind of one-man armies and like to call the shots, making them formidable majoritarian leaders. It is too early to comment on Trump’s leadership style as yet, but from all forecasts that are trickling in, the former New York businessman is in favour of a small government which is typical of many Republican administrations in the past. On the other hand, if India’s unprecedented demonetisation drive was any indicator, Modi likes taking decisions by himself with inputs from just a small coterie of advisers.

The tendency of both the leaders to make long claims is another striking similarity. A major poll promise of Narendra Modi during the 2014 national election was that he would “bring back” all the “black money” stashed overseas soon after coming to power.

It is 2017 now, and Modi is not talking about that pledge anymore.

Trump hasn’t even assumed presidency and he has already gone back on of his major crowd-pulling claim of making Mexico pay for the wall along the border. The incoming president is now claiming that the wall would be built from the money of American taxpayer, though he says that he would make Mexico pay for it later.

Oh, and they both like taking pictures.

Now, lets talk about a few things which seemingly set these leaders apart from each other.

Our Prime Minister, unlike Trump, is a career politician and has been a devoted supporter of the Hindu Nationalist cause of the BJP all his life. The American leader is a political turncoat who signed as a Democrat in 2001 until switching to the Republican Party in 2009.

Trump is also viewed as a loudmouth who isn’t afraid of making statements that may be seen as politically incorrect and offensive. One could say he is like what Modi used to be a decade or so back.

With vast experience in politics, Modi over time has learned the tact of saying the right word at the right time. The Indian leader doesn’t talk about his Hindutva past anymore, has rarely reacted to criticism of his major policies and is regularly criticised for not condemning alleged hate incidents involving his core right-wing supporters.

It looks like Modi can teach Trump a thing or two about politics.