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Home World The 'personality politics' of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump

The 'personality politics' of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump

Women in Modes and Trump ralliesImage copyright
BBC / Getty Images

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Similar to "Make America Great Again," it's all about "NaMo Again" for BJP supporters

In this year's Indian election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi clocked up more than 140 rallies while chasing a second term. Sound familiar? During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Donald Trump appeared at almost as many. The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan looks at the cult of personality politics.

On a hot and dusty evening at India's capital Delhi, crowds are gathering at the outdoor ground called the Ramlila Maidan.

Larger than life cardboard cut outs of PM Narendra Modi line the route, along a busy arterial road.

Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party line-up (BJP) line up to enter.

Some people clap and dance, others chant "Modes, Modes".

The merchandise sellers spring up on you from nowhere. "Would you like a BJP umbrella?" a man asks me, as he unfurls one to reveal his green and orange party colors.

This sort of political hysteria reminds me of the energy and passion I witnessed in 2016 at Rallies for Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump's campaign was built on the promise of Making America Great Again; for BJP supporters here it's all about "NaMo Again" – NaMo being the moniker given to Mr Modi.

Arun Bansal, 27, is wearing a "NaMo Again" T-shirt.

"National Security and Pakistan are the big issues this election," the BJP worker tells me.

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Getty Images / BBC

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Like trump merchandise, the obsession has spawned a range of clothing

If the 2016 race in the US is characterized by Mr. Trump's tough talk to southern neighbor Mexico, then 2019 has come to a close.

Narendra Modi lookalikes. Atri, or "little Modi" as his parents call him, is only seven years old and he has been attending rallies since he was four.

For a moment I have a flashback to a hot and humid evening in Florida Where I trump lookalikes – complete with bright yellow wigs, fake tans and red ties.

Here it's all about the white beard and glasses.

"I like Mr Modi because he does good, he helps the poor and everyone else," says Atri, who has ambitions of becoming prime prime minister himself one day.

Patriot music is pumping as we enter the rally grounds, sitting down to fill up. Both leaders have a knack of making their base believe in unwavering sense of belonging.

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Harminder Singh Bhatia says he likes Mr Modi because he is a 'strong leader'

The next level is clothing.

At both rallies, the basic uniform starts with headgear. In America, it is the trademark red MAGA hats. Here's an orange with the words "NaMo Again" stamped on it.

Harman Singh Bhatia has been wearing a Narendra Modi waistcoat, his polyester finish shimmering in the evening light.

"I've been to every one of his rallies in this area, since he became Prime Minister," he tells me excitedly.

"He's hardworking, he cares about the country."

India votes 2019

Mr Asianna, a Sanskrit teacher from Delhi who is at third modes rally.

The warm-up acts take to the stage. Just like supporters at a concert concert, political groupies like to each other with their devotion.

All the while I'm getting Twitter notifications from Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi, like Mr Trump, uses social media to directly talk to his base, and as the BJP leader makes his journey to the rally, my phone is pinging with alerts.

"Prime Minister Modes and I are world leaders in social media." Mr Trump has said he will be in the White House in 2017. President Trump has 60.4 million followers – PM Modi is not too far behind with 47.3 million.

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BBC / Getty Images

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Atri (pictured left), or "little Modi", is seven years old and he has been attending rallies since he was four

As I glance up from my phone, another modes lookalike walks past and I do a double take.

Ranveer Dhiyam is a retired government official who now travels from rally to rally. "Five hundred people have asked for a selfie this election," he tells me proudly.

I decide to make it 501.

This is the closest I've come to the man himself.

Just like Mr Trump, Mr Modi is notoriously choosy about who he grants interviews to, opting for his preferred outlets, who are more sympathetic and less challenging to the BJP. The same can be said of President Trump, whose outlet is Fox News.

As the crowd If briefly silent, we are told (the real) Mr. Modi is on his way.

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The BBC crew with Ranveer Dhiyam

Minutes later, the prime minister is ready to make a noise so it's "an airstrike of claps" – a reference to the airstrikes India Pakistani territory earlier this year.

They do much more than that – whooping, screeching, whipping out mobile phones as they chant "modes, modes" in unison.

"Bharat mata ki jai", Mr. Modi says, he kicks off his speech.

Once again I'm having a flashback to choruses of "USA, USA".

In the pantomime style I've witnessed at Trump rallies, Mr. Modi, to, audience.

"Should not we kill terrorists in their homes?" he asks. "Tell me, should not we?"

"No, we should," the crowd replies.

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Media captionIndia's elections: Why you care

Mr Modi is devote time to criticize his main opponent, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi.

Both him and Mr. Trump present themselves as outsiders with those who consider them as the imperious ruling classes. Both ran against members of political dynasties – Hillary Clinton, whose husband is a former president, and Mr Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Mr. Modi derides "The Khan Market Aisle" – a reference to one of Delhi's most exclusive areas, inhabited by the country's most privileged.

Mr Trump, who's never held public office before, brands Washington's elite members of the so-called "swamp".

They say they are irritated, "Mr. Modi says as hundreds of roar in approval.

He did not hold back in his attacks on the opposition and many felt he had sunk to a new low when he criticized his opponent's dead father.

He described Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister who was assassinated in 1991, as "corrupt number one".

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BBC / Getty Images

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Fans of both Mr Trump and Mr Modi feel that the two politicians challenge the elite classes

Donald Trump directed at Senator John McCain, who lost his battle with cancer last year.

Both Donald Trump and Narendra Modi are very proud of themselves, but their speeches have sometimes descended into the distasteful.

But for both sets of supporters, there's a broad acceptance that it does not matter if the lines of political civility are crossed.

The cult of personality is the two leaders. Mr Trump and Mr Modi are ready to stand up for voices that are usually ignored by the ruling classes.

18-month-old baby who is dressed as the prime minister. "I really like him – there's such an attraction," Santosh, a mechanic from Delhi.

"I'm ready to skip a meal but I'm not ready for anyone to disrespect our country – that's why I like modes."

You can follow @BBCRajiniV on Twitter

Additional reporting by Kunal Sehgal


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