Donald Trump, Narendra Modi parallels excited conservative Hindu nationalist group

Donald Trump, Narendra Modi parallels excited conservative Hindu nationalist group

Donald Trump, Narendra Modi parallels excited conservative Hindu nationalist group

Updated 26 June 2017, 11:50 AEST

India stands to lose under Donald Trump's planned clampdown on foreign workers, but politically influential conservative Hindus are enamoured by the similarities between the US President and Indian PM Narendra Modi.

In Faridabad on New Delhi's outskirts, about 20 men have gathered pre dawn, for yoga and patriotic rituals.

Key points:

  • RSS is aligned to India's ruling Bharatiya Janata party
  • Prime Minister Modi is set to meet Mr Trump for the first time in Washington
  • RSS's belief in Hindu superiority is viewed suspiciously by Indian minorities

As the sun rises, there's a militaristic feel — brandishing bamboo poles, the group chants "Bharat mata ki jai" (Victory to India).

This is a branch meeting of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — a right-wing Hindu-nationalist organisation aligned to India's ruling Bharatiya Janata party.

Among this group, there's strong support for Donald Trump's confrontational approach to Islamic terrorism.

"Many Muslim countries engage in acts of terrorism which is harmful for India," engineering consultant Kushal Pal tells the ABC.

"India is suffering from terrorism and [US President Donald] Trump is against the terrorism therefore he is favourable for India."

India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism along the two countries' disputed border.

Also among the group is Dr Pradeep Kumar, an electrical engineering professor at Faridabad University.

"Our interests are converging," he said.

"Be it in the field of defence, be it in the field of culture, be it in the field of politics, all the interests are converging."

Shared worldview?

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to Washington for his first meeting with Mr Trump, New Delhi's foreign policy establishment also hopes Mr Trump will be more inclined to favour India over Pakistan, America's often erstwhile ally in the war on terror.

That expectation is due in part to one speech he gave to Indian Americans during last year's campaign.

"If I am elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House, that I can guarantee you," Mr Trump said last October, going on to praise India in the fight against terror.

One area where observers do believe the United States will want to work with India, Japan and Australia is in balancing China's growing influence in the Indian Ocean.

"It's an imbalanced economic relationship, and there are looming security concerns that are not being addressed," said Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institute, referring to India's relationship with China.

"So I think India will largely welcome some of what's being talked about by Trump and his advisers."

Like Donald Trump, some of the RSS's views are controversial.

The organisation's belief in Hindu superiority is viewed suspiciously by India's minorities, especially Muslims, who accuse the organisation of inciting religious hatred and violence.

But these men say they're not violent, and argue it is unfair to portray them as responsible for the acts of vigilante groups.

"Actually opposition parties, they link the RSS with politics for their own gains. But it is not true," Kushal Pal said.

With his stated intention to put America first, the conservative nationalists of the RSS also see in Donald Trump what they admire in their own Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

"I think Trump is a copy of Mr Modi," 45-year-old IT Teacher Sanjay Saha tells the ABC.

But Mr Saha acknowledges that nationalistic approach is likely to hurt some Indians as well.

Similar domestic agendas likely to clash

Donald Trump and Narendra Modi's political similarities mean conflicting objectives — most notably their respective quests to encourage more domestic manufacturing.

Prime Minister Modi has been slowly chipping away at his nation's notorious bureaucracy in a bid to lure foreign companies to set up in India — but that's not a pitch likely to find favour with Donald Trump.

Mr Trump has also had India's IT outsourcing giants in his sights over the tens of thousands of Indian workers they bring into the United States each year.

They're bracing for a further crackdown on America's equivalent of the 457 skilled immigration visa, a program India's biggest tech companies use to supply their American operations with cheaper workers.

The industry is a major Indian source of income and pride, but Mr Trump sees jobs Americans could be doing instead.

Mr Trump and Narendra Modi do share many political traits, but competing agendas mean sharing success will be harder.