Trump is set to visit the state of Gujarat just days before the anniversary of the anti-Muslim pogroms that took place under Narendra Modi’s watch.
US President Donald Trump arrived in India on a two-day visit aimed at bolstering relations with New Delhi, which is at the heart of Washington’s China containment strategy.
Trump’s trip, however, will serve more than a strategic purpose.
The symbolism of the visit’s timing and itinerary will strengthen a sense of triumphalism among Hindu extremists and embolden Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he leads India toward becoming an authoritarian, Hindu majoritarian state.
At a time in which America should be using its influence to roll back Modi’s Hindu nationalist “New India” project, it is instead offering it legitimacy.
Trump flew directly from the United States to the city of Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, which Modi ruled as chief minister for over 12 years. In Ahmedabad, Trump inaugurated a 110,000-seat cricket stadium and gave a joint address with Modi - although some say the event was just hosted there and the inauguration will take place later.
The celebratory event takes place just four days before the anniversary of the start of the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat in 2002 under the watch of Modi. Over a thousand Muslims were systematically killed in the violence, which was perpetrated by networks led by members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
While the pogroms propelled Modi to victory in state elections later that year, he became an international pariah and was barred from entering the United States. But in 2013, that isolation quickly eased as his prospects of becoming India’s prime minister grew.
For outsiders, Modi rebranded himself as a pro-growth, anti-red tape, non-corrupt politician, proffering a distinct “Gujarat model” of development — though India’s economic troubles today show that Modi’s reputation as an economic reformer was undeserved. Crony capitalism and jobless growth define Modi’s stewardship over the Indian economy today, much like during his tenure as Gujarat chief minister.
More importantly, for Modi’s core supporters, the Gujarat model was not about GDP growth, FDI, and ease of doing business rankings. Gujarat served as a Hindutva or Hindu supremacist laboratory, where the Hindu majority could consolidate electorally and advance economically as Muslims were rendered politically irrelevant and physically invisible by both the ballot and the bullet.
Nearly two decades after the pogroms, Ahmedabad remains a heavily segregated city, with its Muslim population largely confined to ghettos. Out of all of India’s large cities, Trump has chosen to visit one defined by its anti-Muslim violence and segregation, on the anniversary of a state-supported ethnic cleansing campaign that took place there.
A visit to Ahmedabad would be justifiable were it a symbol of accountability, reconciliation, or restorative justice. But neither was Modi held accountable for the pogroms, nor did he even feign an apology for the crimes he enabled.
Trump is also expected to visit the ashram (monastery) of “Mahatma” Gandhi in Ahmedabad. But celebrating Gandhi has become a hollow, performative exercise, even for those who repudiate his message. Ahmedabad today is the city of Modi, not Gandhi. And Modi’s Gujarat model is the antithesis of the Gandhian idea of India—at least in its popular imagination.
As Trump visits India, Modi and his right-hand man Amit Shah are in a blitz to replicate the Gujarat model nationwide. In the past year, they have been implementing the longstanding agenda of the RSS, annexing the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, taking steps to build a Hindu temple on the site of a destroyed mosque, and enacting legislation that could render millions of Muslims stateless.
From Ahmedabad, Trump will head to New Delhi, the site of numerous protests against Modi’s Muslim denaturalisation plan. Muslim-led protests in the capital region have been attacked by Hindu vigilantes incited by BJP politicians who have publicly called for protestors to be shot.
In the state of Uttar Pradesh, Muslim enclaves have been attacked by police working in concert with Hindu sectarian militias.
Amid all this, there has been virtually no condemnation of India from the Trump administration. It has instead stood by the Modi government.
Last September, a month after Modi annexed Kashmir and jailed thousands of Kashmiris, Trump took part in a grotesque Walmart-sponsored political rally for Modi in the American city of Houston. Since then, congressional and media scrutiny of India has grown. But Alice Wells, the top US official for South Asia, chooses to deflect tough questions concerning India’s Hindu nationalist government and has implicitly endorsed some of its extreme policies, including the annexation of Kashmir.
Recently, the United States consul general in Mumbai visited the offices of the RSS extremist organisation and laid flowers at the feet of a statue of the group’s founder, KB Hedgewar, who described Muslims as “snakes.”
The opposition to the BJP at the national level is weak. As a result, America is going all-in with the BJP. Indeed, the Trump administration is investing in Modi and the broader RSS-led Hindutva extremist network as much as it is in India itself.
A technology hub like Bangalore or Gurgaon that reflects India’s more promising aspects would be a more suitable destination for an American president. But the Trump administration has chosen to head straight to Gujarat, the laboratory of Modi’s toxic Hindu nationalism.
Trump gains little from the location choice. But for Modi’s hardline Hindu supporters, the American president’s Gujarat visit amounts to a victory. Over the course of eighteen years, Modi has gone from international pariah to America’s “indispensable” ally in the new cold war with China.
Kashmiris, Indian Muslims, and Pakistanis will pay the price for the impunity Modi has been afforded by America. And for Washington, that is alright.
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