The Guardian — On a hot afternoon in Delhi, a group of men sat around a fire chanting Hindu mantras. Idols of Shiva and Hanuman watched on as the group performed a havan puja, a ceremony of worship which they hoped would bring good fortune for the subject of their prayers.
Someone had printed out a picture of his face and thumbed vermillion on his forehead, in a sign of reverence . Alongside the incense, offerings and Hindu gods, he looked somewhat out of place, but the photograph was instantly recognizable: it was Donald Trump.
Vishnu Gupta, leader of the Hindu Sena, the organisation that arranged the ceremony, said that the puja was one of many events the group was organising to gather support for Trump in India, and – he hoped – help the controversial Republican candidate win the presidency.
A rally would soon follow, and demonstrations outside the US embassy in Delhi urging Indian-origin Americans to vote for Trump will be on the menu for coming months, Gupta said. “He’s our hero,” he said. “We are praying for Trump because he is the only one who can help mankind.”
Gupta’s motives for supporting Trump were simple: “He’s the only many who can put an end to Islamic terrorism.” Trump’s hardline stance on Muslim immigration to the US and his rhetoric against Isis and other terror organisations seem to have caught the imagination of the young Hindu fringe leader, who has grown up in a political climate where communal strife between Hindus and the Muslim minority has led to violent clashes on both sides.
Shourya Sharma, a 27-year old software developer who is a supporter of the incumbent Hindu nationalist BJP party in India, agreed. “Politicians in India don’t want to go hard on Muslims because they need the Muslim vote,” he says, claiming that India’s neighbouring Pakistan had fueled terrorist activity by Indian Muslims. “The Obama administration emboldened Pakistan to trespass into Indian territory. The threat of Isis is also looming over India. We need support from an ally like the USA,” Sharma said.
Trump has made contradictory claims on his stance on India. His promise to revise US immigration policy and take outsourced “American” jobs back from India have raised anxiety in the country, especially among the middle classes, who often aspire to study or work in the US or have relatives in the country.
At a rally earlier this week, Trump mocked an Indian call centre worker and mimicked his accent. On the other hand, earlier this year, in an interview with CNN, he said: “By the way, India is doing great. Nobody talks about it. I have big jobs going up in India.”
Trump’s supporters in India are a small but noisy group. Even in rightwing circles his fans are a minority. When the Guardian contacted regional offices of the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Delhi and Mumbai – an umbrella Hindu nationalist organisation and the ideological parent of the current BJP government – questions about the group’s stance on Trump were met with surprise.
“Who is that?” one RSS official asked, saying he had no idea about whether the organisation supported Trump before distancing the RSS from the activities of the Hindu Sena. “They have nothing to do with us,” he said, before putting the phone down quickly. Not all of Trump’s Indian supporters come from a rightwing Hindu background. Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a foreign policy analyst and magazine columnist, says that he just didn’t want to see Hillary Clinton in power. “I’m a Bernie turned Trump supporter,” he said. “[Clinton] is a walking, talking foreign policy disaster.”
Iyer-Mitra argued that Clinton’s fumbles in Libya have left 6,000 Indian families who were working there displaced, and that her approach to the Syrian conflict would lead to more conflict than peace. “Hillary has a track record of failure,” he said. He conceded that Trump is a “misogynist” and has “anti-Islamic tendencies”, but argued that Clinton’s wavering stance on gay rights is a bigger problem for him. “Friends of mine have made her their liberal mascot so casually,” he said. “But she’s not liberal in any sense of the word. She hedges. She wont go against the political climate.
“Trump and Bernie are both reactions,” he added. “Bernie is reaction to too much plutocracy; Trump is reaction to too much political correctness. America needs change. Business as usual is just not going to work.”