Is Trump India's 'savior' as one Delhi group says?

The Hindu Sera political group threw a birthday party for Donald Trump's 70th birthday. 

Saurabh Das/AP
Members of the Hindu nationalist party Hindu Sena celebrate the birthday of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in New Delhi, India, June 14, 2016. The political group had earlier performed Hindu rituals to ensure Mr. Trump's presidential win and to solve the growing problems of Islamic terrorism.

It looked like a normal party for Donald Trump's 70th birthday. There were colorful balloons, signs that wished the presumptive Republican nominee happy birthday, and a three-tiered chocolate cake with white frosting. Mr. Trump wasn't there, though, and his stand-in was a cardboard cutout of him holding a rifle. Oh, and the party was in New Delhi, India.

Hindu Sena, a fringe nationalist political organization in India that has endorsed Trump for his hard-line against Islamic terrorism, hosted the event in a park there Tuesday, singing "Happy Birthday" and feeding a cardboard Trump a slice of cake.

It was the least they could do for their "hero" and the "savior of humanity," said Vishnu Gupta, the group's national president.

"We want to honor Trump as he has pledged to free the world from Islamic terror," said Mr. Gupta, according to The Wall Street Journal. "He is our hero. We follow every occasion related to him."

This isn't the first event Hindu Sena has organized for Trump. It gained media attention in May for organizing a havan puja, or Hindu ceremony, for the candidate, chanting prayers and placing a vermillion on pictures of him. Trump's anti-terrorism and anti-Muslim rhetoric and the perception of him as a strong leader resonates with other Indian nationalists. But, their opinion is a marginal one on the Asian subcontinent, says Varun Sivaram, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow whose research on sustainability and renewable energy brings him to India often.

"Very few view him as a type of savior against terrorism because Donald Trump is against Muslims," Mr. Sivaram tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "To take that view of national sentiment in that way misunderstands what India is, as the largest and most pluralistic democracy in the world," mentioning that about 11 percent of the country is Muslim.  

"Indians are very proud that their country has managed to achieve liberal values, respect for other religions and democracy in their part of the world," adds Sivaram. "Few nations have succeeded in that project."

India, with a population of more than 1 billion, has a wide range of opinions about Trump.

"In some ways, Indians view Trump from the prism [through which] they view their own domestic politics," Tanvi Madan, the director of the India Project at the Brookings Institute, writes to the Monitor in an email. "You get diverse views, even among various groups."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration have kept mum about how they view Trump, although Modi alluded to Trump's slogan, "make America great again," in a speech to Congress on his most recent visit to Washington earlier this month. Mr. Modi referred to the US as "great" at least four times, and told the US-India Business Council the day before "America is not just a country with a great past; it is a country with an exciting future," wrote Ms. Madan in an analysis for the Brookings Institute. Modi is, after all, on a first name basis with the president. He refers to him just as Barack.

Other Indian politicians haven’t been as subtle in their disapproval of Trump. Salman Khurshid, the former foreign minister and a member of India’s Congress party, would be "very, very worried" if Trump became president, he told a crowd at Georgetown University, reported the Indian Express.

The mixed feelings are mutual. At a rally in May, Trump mocked the apparent accent of an Indian call center worker to criticize outsourcing. But in January, he praised India's projected economic growth, telling CNN's Wolf Blizter, "India is doing great. Nobody talks about it."

Trump's celebrity and business success, however has some of India intrigued, especially its media.

"Trump's name has a certain ring to it. After Obama, Trump is going to be the latest American catchphrase," S. Prasannarajan, the editor of Open, an Indian English-language magazine, told CNN. "Trump is a brand. Like Coca-Cola."

The magazine featured a red-faced Trump on one of its covers next to Hillary Clinton. The title read "The American Scream," "Inscrutable Hillary versus nativist Trump, and why the unpopular may defeat the popular in the end."

It helps Trump's image in the country that two Trump-brand towers are being built over the slums of Mumbai and the city of Pune.

Others in the country worry about the apparent xenophobia Trump inspires.

"I have a beard, I have dark skin, I could be mistaken for a Muslim and what, every time I enter America I have to prove I'm not a Muslim? How do you go about that?" Mihir Joshi, a Mumbai musician and talk show host, told CNN.

The Indian government will deal with whoever the next president is, says Ms. Madan of the Brookings Institute.

"But they would worry about the unpredictably and uncertainty that would come with a Trump presidency," she adds.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.