Much divides Donald J Trump and Narendra Modi, but there are similarities between the two leaders and their politics beyond their shared fondness for Twitter. Both are nationalists with a strong populist streak; both have a tendency to authoritarianism, albeit of different kinds. Both, moreover, enjoy the strong support of their respective Religious Rights, despite past differences between the leaders and those movements. In Trump’s case, that means the coalition of mostly evangelical Protestants, conservative Roman Catholics and Mormons that grew into a major political force in the United States (U.S.) in the 1980s. For Modi, it principally means the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement that he joined as a boy, and its many affiliates.
To date, these two Religious Rights have had a considerable influence on Trump and Modi’s domestic policies and some impact on their foreign policies too, but have not yet complicated the U.S.-India relationship. There are reasons to think they might, however, as the ideologies and interests of these two powerful constituencies do not in any way align. Hindu nationalist dislike of Christianity is deep-seated; so too is Christian concern about violence inflicted on churches and believers.
Both Religious Rights played key roles in getting the leaders elected, whatever the misgivings some of their members might have had about the characters of the two men. In Trump’s case, for obvious reasons, those concerns ran much deeper than they did with Modi. A notorious womaniser twice divorced with a notoriously problematic relationship with the truth, Trump’s personal religious commitments are likely non-existent, despite vague protestations to the contrary. His conduct in business has been alleged to be less than ethical, falling some way short of the standards the faithful might ideally want to uphold. And in the past, Trump has expressed views that are anathema to the Religious Right, notably on abortion. In 1999, indeed, he stated that he was ‘very pro-choice’.
Please click here to read the full “Trump, Modi and their religious right” published at India Seminar Web Edition, written by Griffith Asia Institute Deputy Director, Research, Professor Ian Hall.