Just when we thought Donald Trump couldn’t be any more ignorant, the Republican candidate goes ahead and outdoes himself.
Speaking at an event organized by the so-called Republican Hindu Coalition in a New Jersey suburb, Trump repeatedly and unabashedly conflated the words “Hindu” and “Indians” as if the two meant one and the same thing, according to Times of India.
“If I am elected President, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in White House,” Trump said to a crowd of nearly 5,000 people, underlining that a U.S. under his leadership will have the “best ties ever” with India.
During the entirety of his speech, which provided little glimpse of his foreign policy towards India, Trump continued to use the words “Hindu” and “Indians” interchangeably, at one point even telling the spectacle-hungry gathering that he is a “big fan of India and big fan of Hindu.”
As an Indian, I find these words deeply disconcerting. While Hindu is a religious denomination used to refer to the people who follow Hinduism, world’s third largest religion in terms of number of adherents, the word Indian refers to a nationality, and not some religion or ethnicity or language. India is a secular nation which boasts the world’s second largest Muslim population, having more Muslim citizens than Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Libya combined, all countries Donald Trump does not seem to remember fondly in his speeches.
Apart from Hindus and Muslims, India also has significant populations of Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis, not to mention the countless atheists, like myself, who do not belong to any religion. We are all Indians, but we are not all Hindus. To conflate the two is to strip India of its history and identity, of its innumerable regional ethno-linguistic groups that make the country what it is today.
Sure, the crowd listening to Trump in New Jersey did not appear to mind him using the words interchangeably very much. But that is because the gathering comprised entirely of Hindus, and mostly partisan ones at that. Some Hindus, especially those living outside India, tend to think that the country should only be a land of and for Hindus, just like the Aryan nationalists of Germany or the confederate nationalists of America, who would like to believe that their country belongs to only a certain section of people — themselves.
Donald Trump, on his part, affirmed that understanding and even appeared to revel in it, and that is one of the reasons that the Hindu population listening to him cheered him on without being the slightest bit critical or apprehensive about his policies. Trump, like he usually does in front of partisan crowds, got away without providing any details of how he intends to make America’s relationship with India better in actual diplomatic, trade or intelligence terms. For a candidate who has continually been talking to white crowds of how other countries are taking away American jobs, it was remarkably hypocritical of him to extol the virtues of a foreign policy that has seen America bleed jobs to India.
For the crowd listening to Trump, he somehow still appeared to represent their values, even if it was only the stuff of fantasy. It was as if the Hindu population listening to him only wanted Trump to denounce Muslims, which he did with his typical “radical Islamic terror” formulation. A lot of Hindus in India, like their white American counterparts, do not feel completely comfortable with the empowerment of minorities, and Muslims at that. India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who was until a few years banned from entering the United States for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, and who has regularly been likened to Trump himself for his empty rhetoric, swept to power in India in 2014 on the back of this anti-Muslim sentiment coupled with a fantastic PR campaign. Both of them have ridden on waves of populism and benefited from the media’s representation of them in their respective countries. So it was no surprise when Trump praised Modi as an “energetic” and “great” leader, and that, for the Hindu crowd which had assembled in New Jersey for some Trump showmanship and Bollywood entertainment, was all it needed to be convinced to vote for the Republican candidate.
The fact that India is currently at loggerheads with Pakistan over Kashmir, who Trump ceremoniously attacked in his speech, gave the crowd an incentive to believe that the Republican candidate, for all his attacks on minorities, will at least stand with the Hindus living in America.
Well, I have only one message for them: Do not forget that you are part of a minority in the United States, and you look very much like Muslims yourselves.
[Featured Image by Kena Betancur/Getty Images]