“I support Obama,” my grandfather said, putting aside a copy of Newsweek magazine with the candidate on the cover in 2012. “If I were American I would vote Democrat” he said emphatically. This seemed categorically untrue to me as my grandfather was an ardent supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party, also known as BJP, in India. As the largest conservative political organization in the country, their policies are based on Hindu values and nationalism.
Indian politics serve as an interesting mirror to those of the United States, given that both countries are secular, proudly democratic and culturally divided by state. Much as the voter in metropolitan New York City would lean more liberal than the one in rural West Virginia, so too would the voter in Mumbai compared to one in Uttar Pradesh.
In addition, the political parties are similar in terms of their social values. One could compare the Indian National Congress to the Democratic party as their policy is based on Sarvodaya, the lifting up of all people. The BJP follows the Hindutva policy which is all about upholding Hindu values and promoting religious nationalism. There is even a version of the Tea Party in Shiv Sena, which is even more conservative and extreme in its Hindu patriotism.
Despite my strong unwavering dedication to the Democratic party in the United States, when Narendra Modi and BJP won the 2014 Indian national election in a landslide, my household and I were thrilled with the result. The BJP not only won the Prime Minister’s seat, but also 282 of the 543 available seats, while the Congress party won a paltry 44. My father enthusiastically told me how Modi would kick start the Indian economy while improving foreign relations. When Prime Minister Modi visited the United states, he spoke to a sold out crowd in Madison Square Garden that chanted his name like a rockstar’s. It was easy to get caught up in the excitement. “Modi is someone who will fight for me and make my country better,” I thought as I watched from the United States.
I was thrilled at Modi’s victory despite the fact that in 2002, he and his government in Gujrat were complicit in anti-Muslim riots where almost 800 Muslims and 200 Hindus lost their lives. Approximately 150,000 additional people were driven into refugee camps. During these riots, Muslim victims were discriminated against, often denied aid and given less compensation than their Hindu counterparts. Although Modi himself did not actively advocate for these riots, many members of his party did while he remained silent. In addition, Modi himself used anti-Muslim rhetoric in his immediate following campaigns.
As I reflect now, I see increasing similarities between these events and the relationship between the Republican party and many alt-right movements. Although the party itself does not condone these fringe groups, it does not speak against them and instead, accepts their support. The party itself subtly woven in the same Islamophobic, misogynistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric as the alt-right, although Trump has been far more explicit.
Despite being devastated by hearing about Trump’s victory, I was thrilled by Modi’s just two years earlier. Despite being aghast at the rhetoric used by Trump and his party during the election, rhetoric that only supported the white Christian population and insulted everyone else, I identified with similar language utilized by BJP in India. It was easy to be pleased with the result as an upper-class Hindu woman. The BJP and Modi’s policies will lead to increased economic liberalization of India, favoring Hindus. My position in India is part of the majority, whereas in the United States, as an immigrant woman of color, I am a minority. When Modi won, I thought only about a candidate who was explicitly on my side despite the fact that overwhelmingly life is better for Hindus than it is for Muslims in India. When you’re in the majority, it is all too easy to forget the diversity of ideas that exist outside of your own. As a minority in the United States, I vote for the candidate who supports my needs. Despite the fact that I believe in liberal social values, part of me was still happy when the conservative party in India, the one that spoke for the Hindu majority won.
It is incredibly easy to vilify conservatives and those who voted for Trump. I was personally horrified at the rhetoric that was passed around during this election cycle. As a minority trapped in my liberal echo chamber, I was unable to understand or empathize with anyone who would vote for him. However, before I cast a dehumanizing net across all 62 million people who voted for Trump, I must remember how easy it was for me to be in the majority and vote for a conservative candidate that spoke to me.