On Friday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden met for the first time. Their meeting was quite nice and courteous, but something was missing – the bonhomie and tantalizing energy that the Modi-Trump meetings used to create. The palpable difference in energy is a reflection of how Trump and Modi associated closely with each other since both of them represent anti-establishment and anti-Deep State sentiment.
PM Modi and President Biden seemed to get along nicely. They shared jokes and laughter, exchanged some routine remarks about the value of people-to-people ties between India and the US, and promised to cooperate in upholding democratic values, combating the Pandemic, working for a safer Indo-Pacific and tackling climate change.
However, the meeting was simply too diplomatic, and the two leaders interacted as representatives of their nations, rather than engaging at a personal level. There was a desire to strengthen Indo-US ties or at least ensure that the bilateral relationship doesn’t lose its steam, but it was a conscious effort as against a natural course of action.
The missing hug:
India’s Prime Minister likes to develop personal equations and friendships with key leaders. So, he is generally quick to hug and embrace his counterparts. However, he didn’t have that customary hug for Biden.
Even though Biden tried to embrace Modi and didn’t seem to have kept a COVID protocol for the Indian Prime Minister, Modi was more comfortable with India’s traditional greeting – Namaste. In fact, it seemed that Biden, who is facing a tough time in office, wanted a hug for the nice publicity it brings. The US President even held Modi by the arms, but the Indian Prime Minister had a slightly cold body language during his first in-person meeting with Biden.
Why Modi and Trump were more friendly
The difference in the way Modi would greet and embrace Trump, and his cold attitude towards Biden essentially stems out of the vast personality differences in the two US Presidents.
Trump wasn’t just a friend for PM Modi, but he also understood India’s problems and priorities. He spoke about the threat posed by radical Islamism while addressing Indians and also won New Delhi’s support for his massive anti-China campaign.
Greater semblance between Modi and Trump:
Let’s admit it – Biden is an establishment politician, whereas PM Modi is himself an outsider to the Lutyens’ lobby in New Delhi that used to control India’s political affairs before Prime Minister Modi came to power.
In fact, PM Modi had very humble roots to begin with and even after getting into politics, he first worked at the ground level and later served as the Chief Minister of India’s state of Gujarat. He was never an establishment politician. Naturally, Modi didn’t feel a close connection with Biden.
On the other hand, Trump might have had a super-rich background, but he too was an outsider in Washington, D.C. just like PM Modi is an outsider in New Delhi. Therefore, the two leaders felt a strong sense of semblance that strengthened their personal relationship.
The two leaders also share a deep sense of similarity in their political ideology.
- In India, PM Modi is seen as the pioneer of a new brand of leadership that takes politics directly to the people through social media engagement instead of relying on an oligopoly in the mainstream media. Similarly, Trump also believed in interacting directly with his supporters.
- Both Modi and Trump are hard-core nationalists. India’s Prime Minister is described as a Hindu nationalist by his supporters and critics alike. Similarly, Trump had a nationalist agenda – ‘America first’.
- Both Modi and Trump have a specific group of haters – the left-liberal lobby, vested interests in the mainstream media and so-called activists.
- Both the leaders have a specific strong voter base – the pro-Hindu voter base of Prime Minister Modi and the Midwestern American voter base of Donald Trump.
At the end of the day, Modi may be a smarter politician of the two leaders and Trump may be more politically incorrect. Yet, the two share some uncanny similarities that showed manifestly in their meetings.
Indians love Trump; hardly feel any affection for Biden:
In Texas, Trump accompanied Modi to the ‘Howdy Modi’ event, where a large gathering of Indian Americans got swayed by the personal bond between Modi and Trump. Later, Trump came to India and PM Modi accompanied him to the ‘Namaste Trump’ event in India’s city of Ahmedabad. It was again a spectacular event that displayed the close bond between Modi and Trump before a huge gathering of Indian citizens.
After the ‘Howdy Modi’ and ‘Namaste Trump’ events, Trump became an iconic international leader in India. No one except former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu comes close to Trump in terms of the popularity of an international leader in India.
Biden himself comes nowhere close to Trump and therefore his meeting with Modi didn’t really generate a lot of enthusiasm or energy except the customary exchange of remarks about friendly ties between India and the US. At the end of the day, the Modi-Biden meet goes down as a nice interaction but nothing close to the spectacle that the Modi-Trump meeting was.