Never did I think I would watch Donald Trump be the warm-up act at a Texas political rally. As one ethnonationalist commits human rights abuses at the American border, his South Asian counterpart places a communications blackout on a heavily militarized area of disputed territory. Trump and recently reelected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are two sides of the same coin. Trump indirectly endorses a white supremacist agenda by supporting policies excluding African-American, Muslim and other non-white minority groups. PM Modi’s administration has been promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda, excluding Muslims, Christians and other minorities in India. Their similar ideologies were on full display at Howdy Modi, a Houston rally at which both were present.
Modi may be popular within the Indian communities of the U.S., but Trump is definitely not. According to Politico, 80% of Indians voted for Clinton over Trump in the 2016 election. Trump’s presence at the rally in Houston presented an awkward situation to the audience at NRG stadium on Sept. 22. However, you could hear the cheers of “USA!” from the audience of over 50,000 Indian-Americans. Modi didn’t leave the audiences much choice when he showered praise on Trump and introduced him as “full of wit” and “a true friend of India.” Their speeches at the rally tackled similar issues. Both have openly expressed their distrust of journalism. They both emphasized the importance of curbing Islamic terrorism and strengthening their borders. And both have implemented their version of a Muslim ban.
In 2017, Trump’s administration instituted a travel ban which resulted in a drastic drop in the number of visas issued to people from most Islamic countries. Although North Korea and Venezuela were also among the blacklisted countries, there was no significant reduction in visas issued to citizens of those two countries. Similarly, members of Modi’s party tweeted in April that Muslim migrants from neighboring countries are “infiltrators,” while attempting to streamline the citizenship process for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other non-Muslim migrants.
Each politician revs up his base with huge rallies and questionable talking points. Modi presents himself as being responsible for Indian economic growth, when in 2017 he plunged the nation’s economy into chaos by the infamous demonetization campaign. In a failed effort to reduce the use of black money, he voided old banknotes and replaced them. This action led to cash shortages and an overall reduction in India’s GDP growth. On the other hand, Trump credits his administration with record low unemployment and record high stock market values. However, according to Bloomberg, his economic policies are failing in regions such as the Midwest, where they need success the most.
The disturbing parallels between the two run even deeper. Modi’s recent reelection campaign, along with his speech at Howdy Modi, was centered on his actions in Kashmir. Kashmir was acceded to India on the condition that it would have a separate constitution and internal administration. A previously semi-autonomous, Muslim-majority region that has been disputed between India and Pakistan for decades, was stripped of its status and placed on a complete communications blackout about a month ago, according to Forbes. Now, Kashmir is under full Indian control. There have been reports of serious human rights abuses happening there, none of which can be credibly reported due to everything being shut down. Modi advertises his actions as an attempt to bring peace in the region, yet they result in the furthest thing from peace.
In comparison, the Trump administration recently announced its decision to overturn the Flores settlement. This settlement sets limits on the time that children can spend in detention centers at the border. If overturned, then children will be detained indefinitely and will face even greater physical and psychological damage. The flawed logic behind this decision is the principle of deterrence: if migrants know what they will face at the border, they may not come at all. However, the situations that migrants escape may be even worse than detention. These two situations are just state-sponsored human rights abuse thinly veiled as effective policies.
With this information, it is no surprise that these two right-wing leaders walked with their arms around each other along the perimeter of NRG stadium on Sept. 22. Trump and Modi’s heavy association with each other may only make their bases stronger. Modi will be regarded as making India a formidable world power who holds events with the leader of the most powerful nation. Trump will garner support from the Indian community, whose voting power is growing, especially in a critical electoral battleground like Houston.
Dallas, like Houston, is a vastly multicultural city. Many Dallas residents, including UTD students, were present and even performers at the event in Houston. We cannot support one person’s policies without indirectly supporting the other’s. Our community is highly educated, yet we still get sucked into the glitz and glamour of these huge rallies and politicians’ borderline illegal words. As the Indian community’s influence inevitably grows in the United States, it’s important that we don’t turn a blind eye to the people suffering in our home country, in Kashmir and those at the border, just a few hours south of us.
Mansi Chauhan is an Indian neuroscience senior from Lewisville, Texas.