NEW YORK – It was not just a clash of ideology, globalization espoused by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vs. President Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ wealth drive through protectionism, which were fascinating bookends at Davos. Not that the two met at the snow-clad Alpine resort town in Switzerland, just like bookends don’t. But if they were to, there was chance of frostbite in diplomatic relations. Modi, perhaps, would have liked to keep his mouth shut with Trump, not expose his Indian ‘accent’ anymore, or felt uneasy speaking to Trump.
In his Opening Plenary address, Modi compared protectionism to terrorism. It was a direct rebuke to the Trump Administration’s drive to oust immigrants.
Trump, exuberant from his tax reforms, boost to corporates, a zooming stock market, lower unemployment rates, and having weathered the fallout from the news of an extra-marital dalliance with a porn star, stuck to his nationalistic policy stance, loosely translated as ‘America first, others be damned unless you invest in us’, in the closing address, at Davos.
“Now is the perfect time to bring your business, your jobs and your investments to the United States,” Trump told the gathering in Davos, on Friday. He also talked tough on “predatory” trade practices, warning that US would not tolerate it.
Mind you, the goal of the annual Davos conference is to promote globalization.
Modi wasn’t in the room to mull over this stark opposite stance by his new-found foe of Pakistan. He was busy mingling with ASEAN leaders at India’s Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi.
Bonhomie and light banter between radical opposites is ok within the confines of Davos. Nodding heads, even if not agreeing to the other’s position, acceptable. Not in real life. If not next week, or next month, or next year, this clash of ideas between Modi and Trump will make them wince twice before going for a hug. The embrace will lack warmth for sure. Relations will sour at some levels, especially dispute on work visas, US’ treatment of skilled Indian workers.
But perhaps, even more incendiary than the two poles-apart positions by India and the US, was news that broke out a day before Modi took to the mike in Davos: the Washington Post reported Trump allegedly puts on an Indian accent when he repeats comments made by Modi.
Trump allegedly imitated the accent of Modi, repeating what the latter told him in reference to US help in Afghanistan: “Never has a country given so much away for so little in return”.
It’s by now established that Trump likes his boys’ locker room talk, doesn’t hold back disdain and contempt for issues even before Democrats. From his salacious gossip about women with Billy Bush to opening up what he really thinks about ‘shithole’ or ‘shithouse’ countries, there is plenty to harp on.
Yet, the mocking of Modi comes as a surprise. Or perhaps not – whichever way you look at it, considering that Trump in his campaign trail, in 2016, imitated an Indian call center worker.
Frank Islam, an Indian American bundler for the Democrats, who has raised more than $100,000 for Hillary Clinton, had then called the imitation of an Indian call center worker by Trump as “demeaning and demonizing” to him, in a report in The Hindustan Times.
Illinois Democrat Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi tweeted his displeasure on Trump’s imitation of Modi: “I was appalled to read that President Trump reportedly affected an Indian accent to imitate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Americans are not defined by their accents, but by their commitment to this nation’s values and ideals.”
Trump is not the first to mock an Indian accent, or make a derogatory comment on it.
Joe Biden, in his 2008 presidential run, had made an innocuous enough remark which he later apologized for, that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
However, it’s one thing to imitate an Indian accent, and quite another to imitate a sagacious world leader like Modi, who the US talk of as one of their most important allies. Who Trump has publicly announced as a friend. It’s demeaning, shows lack of respect for Modi, and for India.
Perhaps, it’s just as well Trump and Modi didn’t meet at Davos.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on twitter @SujeetRajan1)