On June 26, U.S. President Donald Trump will hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At first glance, the two might seem aligned. Modi heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has sustained criticism at home and abroad for its divisive rhetoric about India’s Muslim citizens, who number some 189 million. The Trump campaign was likewise anti-Muslim, which motivated at least some Hindus in India and the United States to support Trump’s bid for the presidency with the expectation that contempt for Muslims would translate into harsher policies toward Pakistan and other Muslim states. Moreover, both Trump and Modi are populist leaders who have capitalized on their polities’ demands for political upheaval. Both also have surrogates who have pushed divisive identity issues to the forefront of politics, and they have been described by journalist Ashok Singh as “theatrical and… narcissistic.” He is not alone in making such comparisons. Yet despite their posited—if contested—similarities, the two have remained at odds for several reasons.
First, Trump ran on the premise that immigrants are “taking American jobs.” (In fact, robots are taking American jobs, and they will continue to do so.) Trump recently signed an executive order that would make it more difficult for Indians to obtain H-1 visas, which are highly sought after and comprise an important source of remittance revenue in India. Modi, in response, urged Washington to keep an open mind on admitting skilled Indian workers, as the Hindustan Times reported.
Second, Trump’s anti-Muslim vitriol may have been greeted enthusiastically by some Hindus, but racists in the United States have also assaulted Hindus and Sikhs. Many Indians now fear for their safety and are reconsidering working and studying in the United States. More recently, Trump snubbed India when he suggested that India’s commitment to the Paris climate accord was motivated by financial incentives rather than dedication to decelerating climate change. India’s Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, retorted that "anyone who says we have I reject that as baseless.”
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