NEW DELHI — The only joy today in watching Donald J. Trump speak as the 45th president of the United States is that, as an Indian, I can redirect words that a Pakistani Urdu poet once spoke to us.
In March 2014, as India seemed set to elect a new leader, Fahmida Riaz sat before an Indian audience and recited her poem “Tum Bilkul Hum Jaise Nikle” (“You Turned Out Just Like Us”). She was referring to our soon-to-be prime minister, Narendra Modi, who was running a campaign that skillfully melded the appeal of an outsider (he had once been a tea seller, he claimed) to the established order with the language of Hindu majoritarian politics, tapping in to existing prejudices against India’s Muslim minority.
Ms. Riaz spoke to her audience:
“You turned out just like us / where were you hidden till now brother / The same stupidity and ignorance / that gripped us for a century / has reached your doors today”
When I heard Mr. Trump’s speech today in New Delhi, it was difficult to escape the echo of what we have already witnessed in India. In his inaugural speech, Mr. Modi talked of pulling the poor of India out of poverty. Many pundits, quick to look for hope where there was none, said that Mr. Modi’s speech reflected a new inclusiveness after the hatred of the campaign.
More than two years later, nothing has changed for the poor of India, but the bigotry that helped Mr. Modi ride to power has flourished.
About 25 years ago, during the first Gulf war, I was a mathematics graduate student in New York. With short-cropped hair and a flowing beard, the archetypal image of today’s jihadi, I bicycled across the Outer Banks of North Carolina, camped and dined with people who welcomed me, encountering no hostility. It was an experience I cannot imagine repeating today.
In that quarter century, America has found its way to the same heaven to which Ms. Riaz had welcomed Indians a couple of years ago:
“We are already there / the hell you go to now / Take some time out there / to keep us posted”
Hartosh Singh Bal is a co-author of “A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel” and the political editor of The Caravan magazine.