Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States to join President Trump to address a gathering of over 50,000 Indian Americans is an opportunity to not only strengthen ties between the oldest and the largest democracy, but also to pressure the prime minister to stand up to his promise of an inclusive and secular India.
To Prime Minister Modi’s credit, he has implemented developmental plans from space exploration to health insurance schemes at a rate unheard of in Indian politics. After a decade of unprecedented corruption and poor governance, Modi’s vision of India as a developed country has captured the dreams and imaginations of many.
But the economic strides come with a cost: intolerance, bigotry and hate crimes.
Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party and allies have made no secret of their vision of India as a Hindu country, contradicting India’s secular founding principles.
Hate crimes against Muslim men have increased in the past five years of the Modi administration. In a move unbecoming of the largest democracy, the BJP endorsed sedition charges against students who had cheered for the Pakistani cricket team in an India-Pakistan cricket match.
This August, just a few months into his second term, Modi revoked the semi- autonomous status of the disputed state of Kashmir. Not by debate and deliberation, but by a security clampdown that left the residents of the Muslim majority valley without internet, mobile and even healthcare services for weeks.
The rising intolerance is all too palpable on social media too.
The slightest hint of dissent is quickly silenced with raucous accusations of anti-nationalism.
Nobel Laureate Malala Yousaf was trolled for tweeting her concerns about the ongoing crisis in the Valley affecting the education of school children. The Hindu American Foundation, an American nonprofit and ally of the Modi government, lambasted Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for speaking out against curtailing the civil liberties in Kashmir.
The similarities in politics of Trump and Modi are hard to miss.
Both are immigration and national security hardliners, ran for elections on populist policies, and frame any criticism of their policies as unpatriotic. Their majoritarian beliefs have galvanized the far right of their respective countries resulting in a wave of bigotry, intolerance and hate crimes.
Despite their similarities, it is ironic that the popularity of the two leaders are at polar opposites among the Indian diaspora.
As minorities in the U.S., we "Desis" accept and enjoy the benefits of secularism, freedom of religious expression, and evangelizing (the Hare Krishna movement).
We vote for secular leftwing policies in the U.S., and accuse Trump of instigating hate crimes against Indian Americans, like the killing of an Indian engineer in 2017, by his racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Yet, Indian Americans, the majority of whom are India-born Hindus, hypocritically champion the Hindu nationalist policies of Modi in India, the very policies that we are critical of in the American setting.
If we want an inclusive and tolerant America, we must start by cleaning our own backyard. We must insist that Prime Minister Modi create a secular, inclusive and multicultural India, much like the America we seek for ourselves.
(The author is the Indian American co-founder of Programming Interview Prep and a freelance writer.)