Global Pairings

Donald Trump: The Narendra Modi of America?

Two outsiders in India and the United States, each determined to tackle their country’s exhausted political establishment.

Credit: patrakar and Matt Johnson


  • No one thought pariah Narendra Modi was electable and then he won. Will Trump win too?
  • Just because the beautiful liberal people don't like Trump, it is not guaranteed that he will lose.
  • Narendra Modi's critics disliked him so much they didn't listen as his message resonated. So too with Trump.

No one thought Narendra Modi was electable. He was loathed, treated like a pariah. He was denied a visa to travel to Western countries. His past stuck to him like a leech.

The riots which led to the death of 2,000 Muslims and hundreds of Hindus in Gujarat in 2002, in the state where he had just become the Chief Minister, stuck to his reputation like an indelible birthmark.

Members of his party could not prevent him from being chosen as the leader for the next national election. But they fervently hoped that, come election time, he would fail to win outright.

Yet, he won. Not just that. He surprised everyone by scoring a smashing victory, toppling a political clan by defeating a party that had long seemed unbeatable.

Even after two years of his being at the top, a sense of incredulity hovers over many of his former detractors. But what they dislike even more is that the crowds love him.

Modi’s journey, Trump’s journey?

There are many parallels between Narendra Modi who became India’s Prime Minister in May 2014 and Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive 2016 presidential candidate.

They are both outsiders, in terms of party establishments shunning them, as well as in their political discourse that flouts the conventions of polite debate.

Narendra Modi was running in a British-type parliamentary system. The total number of seats in India’s lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, is comparable to the U.S. House of Representatives.

No party in India had won a majority on its own since 1984. Modi was campaigning not just for his own election for the first time to the federal legislature but also counting on a majority of successful candidates of his party getting elected by hanging on his coattails.

Modi broke the record of the previous 25 years and delivered a majority for his party. Before the final results came in, even his party grandees were predicting, indeed hoping, that he would fall short of the majority – so as to be better able to handle him.

For all his oomph and dynamism, Modi was a loner, not part of the political elite. Since his election, he has managed to become the center of conversations not just at home, but in many countries abroad.

Modi ran a moderate middle of the road campaign, but he also touched the aspiration of the entire generation of young Indians by giving them hope.

Yet people who disliked him did not hear what he was saying. Instead, they tried to make hay by recalling what had happened in Gujarat back in 2002. Modi had to defeat the propaganda against him.

Anti-intellectual, anti-establishment

Donald Trump has been defying the denial of the establishment both of his party and of the liberal intelligentsia. He began his campaign by breaking every rule of permissible political discourse.

He was keen on breaking china, plenty of it. He made a point of saying everything other politicians are afraid to say openly. By speaking against Mexican immigrants, Muslims and even women, he endeared himself to voters who never thought anyone would say what they were saying. Respectable opinion was alarmed and shocked.

But as time elapsed, Donald Trump won primaries and piled up delegates. The man with plenty of money also managed to get a lot of free publicity, while his rivals had to pay for getting their names in the news.

For all the talk about a contested Republican convention, Trump is now in a position where he can legitimately demand that the Republican Party must play by the rules and let him win the nomination.

Memories of 1964

Memories of 1964 when Barry Goldwater was running for the nomination of the Republican Party come to mind. As the day of the convention approached, everyone in the party establishment gathered in San Francisco was approached to stop Goldwater.

Alternate candidates, presumably much more deserving, were created out of the hat. But Goldwater, who had won the primaries, received the nomination of his Party.

Goldwater was a shock to the American political system because he broke the cozy consensus of bipartisan politics. He said things that were unsayable.

Although Goldwater went down to defeat in the general election, he blazed the trail for Nixon in 1968 and Reagan in 1980. American politics took a decisive turn to the right once he had introduced the themes no one else had.

Modi gained from the bankruptcy of the outgoing government. Congress Party, which ruled India for 45 years on its own and ten more years at the head of a coalition – thus altogether for 55 of the 69 years India has been independent – had simply run out of steam. Modi emerged as the answer.

Similar times

Trump also comes at a time when systemic gridlock in Washington has made progress impossible in tackling many urgent problems. The Tea Party and most Republicans loathe Obama, either for his race or for what many perceive to be his “radicalism.”

Decades of stagnation of workers’ incomes have left bipartisan politics unmoved. Globalization has benefited the corporations but not their workers.

If he wins the nomination in Cleveland and faces Clinton, it will be a contest that will see an upsurge in voter turnout. It will be a bitter campaign. Clinton will represent the consensus and Trump the dissident view.

It is anyone’s guess who will win. Just because the beautiful liberal people don’t like Trump, it is not guaranteed that he will lose.

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About Meghnad Desai

Meghnad Desai is a member of the British House of Lords and an emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics.

Responses to “Donald Trump: The Narendra Modi of America?”

Archived Comments.

  1. On April 27, 2016 at 3:58 am Ashish responded with... #

    Author is fool, Trump speaks Shit all the time, modi has never did never said such shit.. Also modi wrong image is just perception by western media and west influenced indian media

  2. On April 27, 2016 at 8:16 am French_Underwood responded with... #

    “Modi ran a moderate middle of the road campaign” if your article is true then how could you argue Trump is like PM Modi. When did Trump run a moderate campaign? When did Trump run a middle of the road campaign?
    Am I missing something, Meghnad Desai?

  3. On April 27, 2016 at 9:33 am sophia responded with... #

    The author is moron to compare Modi with Trump.

  4. On April 27, 2016 at 11:10 am haavbline responded with... #

    Isn’t it a little too early for Modi to begin sucking up to Trump already? Hilary’s presidential campaign ain’t dead yet.

  5. On April 27, 2016 at 11:51 am BalramRules responded with... #

    Modi was a poor teaseller as a kid, he travelled across the country as a child trying to learn more of various cultures. During the Emergency, he disguised himself as a Sikh, escaping house arrest from Indira Gandhi, and campaigned against communism and the violence facing Sikhs in Punjab and the forced sterilizations in the Western fronts.
    He then became Chief Minister of Gujarat for ten plus years, and transformed that from one of the poorest states in India to amongst the richest, he used to be very pro-west until the west banned him from travel, the Chinese all know him well though, given it was their investment that built up Gujarat.
    Comparing this man to Trump shows how simplistic the western view of international politics really is, you love finding comparisions where none exist.
    Trump just jumped into politics, he is a vain and arrogant fool, amongst other things.
    Modi never even accepted that he was responsible for fuelling the riots, and there has been zero proof that he has in fact, the only people that have said he is such was the political opposition, whom the west love because their leader is an Italian puppet, so they went aboard with it.
    Gosh, and they said the colonial days were over…

  6. On April 27, 2016 at 12:02 pm Binod responded with... #

    Modi will never suck up to anybody

  7. On April 27, 2016 at 12:04 pm Binod responded with... #

    Meghnad desai

    There is only one Narendra Modi.YoyShould not compare him to trump.

  8. On April 27, 2016 at 12:07 pm Binod responded with... #


  9. On April 27, 2016 at 12:57 pm French_Underwood responded with... #

    Nope, colonial days aren’t over yet. The East India Company has been replaced by Jawaharlal Nehru Private Limited Corp aka CONGress Party. The colonial days will be over the day we put this CONGgress Party six feet beneath the mire.

  10. On April 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm Mo Dog responded with... #

    Though both share good nationalist tendencies versus the standard issue elites, their careers and personalities are very different. Modi was born of modest means, and joined the RSS as a young man, working on projects for the people. After that he spent many years working his way up the political ladder, till he had his successful terms as CM of Gujarat, leading to the PMO. He has never amassed a fortune and lives a simple life. He plans to retire to a modest house and live on his pension, no slush funds abroad. Trump is the flamboyant son of a millionaire. He attended schools on the elite track, ie wealth. Trump shows off his wealth constantly. Modi is also known for almost excessive courteousness, Trump less so. They are both nationalists who believe the global agenda is stacked against their countries. They appeal most to the downtrodden, and play off well against the elites. However, US elites are more powerful and Trump will probably lose.

  11. On April 27, 2016 at 5:49 pm JJJackxon responded with... #

    Utter nonsense. The comparison of Donald Trump to Mr. Modi is odious and insulting. No doubt, there are similarities in the context etc. but the two men themselves are poles apart. Anyone with a High School degree can make a better case demonstrating that the two men are nothing alike.

  12. On April 27, 2016 at 7:48 pm Jnana Veer responded with... #

    Truly ignorant! Trump is being opposed by conservatives too (and quite frankly, any one with a modicum of decency)

  13. On April 27, 2016 at 7:49 pm Jnana Veer responded with... #

    Modi has never stooped so low as to belittle women or the physically challenged…

  14. On April 27, 2016 at 8:50 pm mkp responded with... #

    Comparing Modi with Trump is simply a dumb intellectual exercise. Modi is a Gandhian; as true Gandhian he lives a simple life but embraces high values..Never preaches hatred nor uses hostility to divide people.The unfortunate Muslim carnage was simply a societal reaction to the burning of a full train of hapless Hindu pilgrims by Muslim groups. Trump is a creation of decades of GOP’s vision of extreme right wing politics.Married three times so far and leading a high life Trump still has little respect for women or other minorities. Modi represents the common man and his aspirations. Congress with decades of corruption and with deep pockets is trying to vilify Modi and unseat him..

  15. On April 28, 2016 at 2:03 am Mi3 user responded with... #

    The editor has perhaps a very narrow view of the Indian political scenario. Heck, I’ll bet he hasn’t even tried to draw parallels before writing the article.

    1. Modi has been acquitted by Gujarat High Court from the riots case.
    2. Donald Trump has himself proven to be ambassador of bigotry.
    3. Modi will never insult other religions.
    4. Modi does not make weird facial expressions to imitate different ethnicities.
    5. Modi uphelds women equality principles.

  16. On April 28, 2016 at 4:14 am judith responded with... #

    In 1965 I had the misfortune to be part of a weekly seminar at the LSE with an arrogant and mysogeniic Desai. He refused to recognize the presence of the two women among the small group of perhaps 15. He was dogmatic, heaven help any student with an alternate view, and I doubt has changed his spots. Not a charismatic teacher, but one who ruled by fear. I have no memory of anything he taught, unlike his peer Maurice Peston who sadly died this week.

  17. On May 7, 2016 at 1:42 am mistyeyrie responded with... #

    Obama was humiliated by Modi. Taj visit was cancelled, Michelle was confined to her hotel room. You represent a penniless beggar west.
    Narendra Modi said, FDI = First develop India.

    The US Dollar was then Trash. Worthless IOU.

  18. On May 18, 2016 at 7:22 am Islamic Origin Language Hindi responded with... #

    Narendra Modi is a Muslim man pretending to be a Hindu. BJP is nothing but an Islamic party running under the cover of a Hindu name. THe media’s portrayal of BJP, Narendra Modi etc all as HIndu entities is very disgusting and pure lies.

    Let this radical Islamic party BJP first endorse all the Hindu contributed languages of India as official languages as of India, they have purposely limited themselves to the British promoted Islamic origin language Hindi alone and rejected the original Indian languages so that the work of the Hindi terrorists from Pakistan will become a lot easier.

    Donald Trump is Donald Trump a patriot, one cannot compare him to the Muslim traitor Narendra Modi.

    Pakisani language Hindi blabbering Narendra Modi can pretend his best to be a Hindu (another example of “Taqiyya”), but he is not.