Open Diary

Swapan Dasgupta is an MP and India’s foremost conservative columnist. He is the author of Awakening Bharat Mata: The Political Beliefs of the Indian Right
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On Donald Trump, Tristram Hunt and visiting White Desert

A REVOLUTION HAS OFTEN been described as a change of regime, rather than a mere change of government. Judging from the hysterical responses of people who didn’t vote for him or are afraid of having to deal with a presidential style that is, to say the least, unique, I am often inclined to think that in Donald Trump we have witnessed the second American Revolution.

On reflection, that may well be an overstatement. When President Trump moves into the White House after a rumbustious inauguration that he has proclaimed will be a “people’s” celebration, rather than a cosy elite party filled with wealthy donors, it will be a landmark event. Hitherto, the occupant of the White House—in living memory at least— has been a conventional politician. Trump has never held public office and threatens the continuity of public policies. Predictably, too many powerful people are nervous because he threatens to rock the boat.

The Pentagon and CIA are worried that he will overturn the policy of hostility towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia; European leaders are concerned that he will undermine both NATO and the European Union; China is angry that his threatened protectionism will unsettle its domestic economy and have ripple effects on its ill-concealed muscle flexing in Asia; and the Islamic world believes that his black-and-white view of the world means that every Muslim will be viewed as a suicide bomber.

Should we in India be similarly concerned too? If your world view is shaped by what the punditry has been writing in the liberal media on both sides of the Atlantic, we too should be thinking that Trump signals the beginning of the bubonic plague epidemic globally. Isn’t he, after all, an admirer of people like Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen?

However, if we press the pause button and reflect a little on his avowed ‘extreme’ positions, we may find a great deal—apart from H1B visas— that converge with our national interests. Isn’t it in India’s interests if an American president tells China exactly where to get off? So far most European and American leaders have pussyfooted around the issue of China’s hegemonic ambitions because they have put short-term business interests above long-term strategic interests.

Then there is the issue of Islamist terrorism, particularly that originating from Pakistan, and the Palestine- inspired victimhood that fuels it. Trump’s no-nonsense attitude towards these causes corresponds with our blanket intolerance of all terrorism.

Why, in that case, should Indians view the beginning of the Trump presidency through the prism of liberal angst?

I WAS A little disappointed that my friend Tristram Hunt, who used to represent Stoke-on-Trent in the House of Commons, has resigned and triggered a by-election. However, I am absolutely overjoyed that he has given up his parliamentary career— which seemed to be getting nowhere after Jeremy Corbyn’s loony Left took over the Labour Party—for the post of Director of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London.

Tristram has been a frequent visitor to India and his book Ten Cities That Made An Empire dealt in detail with Bombay and Delhi. He was at the Jaipur Literature Festival two years ago, was a regular at the Cambridge India conferences that Shruti Kapila and the late Chris Bayly used to organise.

The V&A hosts some of the best India collections, only a small fraction of which (like in the British Museum) has been publicly viewed. Of course, the V&A’s interests go beyond India, but given Tristram’s abiding interest in imperial history and Victoriana, we hope that India gets a big push.

This year, according to the agreement between Narendra Modi and David Cameron in 2015, is supposed to be marked by intensive cultural exchanges between India and the UK. Let’s hope the V&A collections feature prominently in the celebrations.

VISITING PARTS OF India as a tourist is a novel experience for me. And that is precisely what I did over the New Year with three old friends from London. Some of the destinations were predictable but it was the journey to the Rann of Kutch that was the highlight.

Earlier this journey from Bhuj into the White Desert was quite uncommon. However, when he was Chief Minister, Narendra Modi made it an out-of-the-way destination.

Both the smooth journey from Bhuj plus two nights in the luxury tents put up by the Rann Utsav made the visit worth it. Although the accommodation isn’t cheap, the gentle stroll across the white desert at sunset was quite an experience. For those looking for unusual holidays, this one is worth trying.