Steve Bannon spoke about US-India relationship, Modi's second landslide victory, Pakistan, and his interest in Hindu spirituality.
Former White House chief strategist and media mogul Steve Bannon spoke exclusively to WION's Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Chaudhary recently. During the conversation, he spoke about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's landslide victory, US-India relationship, Pakistan, his interest in Hindu spirituality and his love for Bhagavad Gita.
Here is the full transcript.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Hello and welcome to the interview. I am Sudhir Chaudhary. India is making global headlines. Prime minister Modi has done the impossible. He has won the biggest democratic mandate in the world. And today we have a man who pulled off another seemingly impossible win. The victory of Donald Trump as America's president. With me today is Steve Bannon, political strategist and media mogul. We are also joined by Shalabh Kumar, a prominent Indian-American who has worked closely with Donald Trump's campaign. Mr Bannon and Mr Kumar welcome to WION.
Steve Bannon: Thank you for having me.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Mr Bannon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to begin his second term. In India, we call it the Modi 2.0 version. He has a bigger majority this time and he has more elbow room. How do you view this for the future of India-US relations?
Steve Bannon: Well, look, I, when Modi first won five years ago, I was very proud of the fact that Breitbart which is a conservative kind of right-wing site in the United States. We covered that election very closely and the reason was the day he won we put a headline that he was India's Reagan; and I have been incredibly impressed since the first day I heard of him I started following him in Indian politics and I would tell the people in India what I believe just happened is... exactly like Ronald Reagan second win in 1984.
His major landslide which is about him personally the job he had done. I mean I think the western media is absolutely stunned by the scale of the Modi victory. I would say I'm not because I had tremendous confidence that they would win and he would get big. So, I think right we get to know this all about the China situation and other things and it only boats well for future relations with the United States, but people should understand you come with a lot of power and one of the reasons you have empowered Modi, right now on the world stage I think he is the one most powerful of all politicians simply for the fact, not just the country how powerful India is but the man that Indian people gave him the second term.
We had Shally (Shalabh Kumar) came into our studio in New York the largest radio network in the United States. I remember we would have him in our studio in New York talking specifically about this topic even before we started to campaign for Trump to talk about how Modi had really set a template of very Reaganesque about economy about national defence he bases the way he related to through the middle class to the working class. So Shally was the one that brought that to our attention and that was as early as January 13 which was you know several years before even Trump came on the scene so Modi has I think just set an incredible standard, high standard, for about how a politician should comport himself.
Watch: Former White House chief strategist and media mogul Steve Bannon in conversation with WION
Sudhir Chaudhary: India and America face a lot of common challenges there's much scope for partnership. What was lacking earlier was political will. In your opinion what should Indian PM Modi and US President Trump be doing to enhance the Indo-US relationship to help it achieve its full potential?
Steve Bannon: I think that's the question people in the United States are asking as you know, what has changed in the last two years are really in the last year that united states and I take great pride in being a small part of this in the campaign when I was in the administration has now engaged China in this economic war the Chinese been running against the industrial democracies in the west and also Japan, India and other western allies and you know we're at a point that people of united states, Japan and western Europe are not gonna back down. They understand that the Chinese with western capital western technology is been trying to become a hegemon,a hegemonic power in the Pacific, a hegemonic power on the landmass Eurasia I mean we're here today in Kazakhstan and the reason we are here today is to find out the depth of what's going on in this one belt one road situation but I can tell you that united states is engaged now countering this economic war with China and I think India is going to be a key ally for that. If there's any country that's exposed to this expansionist mentality of the radical cadre of the Chinese communist party this radical cadre that controls China it's India; and I think that Modi and trump would be two natural allies India United States if this things gonna be pushed back it's gonna be Japan, India and united states. Those are the three most important nations to do this and I see very good things ahead of us as far as the allies go.
Sudhir Chaudhary: You just mentioned China. We know that China has been shielding Pakistan for a very long time. It impacts not just their neighbours but also America's interests. How serious a threat do they pose in your view?
Steve Bannon: Look, Pakistan's been an ally in the war of terror sometimes you have good days and sometimes you haven't had good days. You know when I was in the White House and before I was in the Breitbart when I was in the white house, and after what more I think is to hold Pakistan accountable right to hold them accountable for are they really supporting us and Afghanistan. Now Afghanistan's been an absolute debacle for the united states of America we spent two trillion I think we lost 25 thousand combat casualties another 25 thousand wounded and we're still there today and I adamantly thought I thought we should draw down in Afghanistan leave constabulary force, a special force to really draw down and that's being 65 billion dollars that to just spend. So the situation over there is very day to day you know it's a very big concern of I know the people who back president Trump.
Afghanistan, we're looking there you know India is an actual ally. We understand this tension between Pakistan and India, we understand this tension between China and India I mean what struck me so much in this campaign of Modi is how much really Modi as a world leader came up; you, know vis-a-vis China, vis-a-vis Pakistan,vis-a-vi isis in places like Sri Lanka so look we're going through a very dangerous time in world history. I have called this the dark valley like the 1930s. The way that we're gonna come through this without a conflict, without a general conflict or regional conflict I think it's pretty straight forward that that reasonable man and woman have to come together in a leadership position and when I look at on our side of the football and I see Abe in Japan, Modi in India and Trump in the United States, I like what I see people like Nigel Farage coming up in the UK, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, I like the leaders and I think, the three most important Abe in Japan, Modi in India and the Trump in the United States are the type of men that can really put together I think a very impressive coalition.
Sudhir Chaudhary: The impression that we get in India is that even the US government is not doing enough to control Pakistan. Do you agree with this? Is cutting aid enough? Shouldn't America exert more pressure on Pakistan?
Steve Bannon: I think, listen.I'm out of the government now so speaking as a private citizen but I will speak as somebody who is engaged to this populist nationalist America-first program and the reason I was brought into the Trump campaign very late, the campaign they were in very bad shape they were down you know 10, 12, 14 points with 88 days to go. I was brought here because. I knew I knew the people I knew what motivated them I knew how to turn the thing around in a very quick time frame to focus on it. You have to remember the united states has spent 7 trillion dollars in 17 years in the middle-east wars people are very frustrated that there haven't been in these kinds of outcomes and you know there's a lot of fingers pointing to Pakistan. I think Pakistan plays better rangers I think Pakistan plays accountable I think Pakistan an often a reliable ally when they are not, they are not. I think the important thing that I would like to emphasise that I think India in the United States is at a different level. You know India you know lives in a very bad neighbourhood, right? I think it's why is it chaaldiraa?
Shalabh Kumar corrects, "Chowkidaar"
Steve Bannon continues, I think it is one of the reasons why Modi used that phrase - I'm the watchman. Because I think this gets the point right now in world history, you know India has got a very uncertain path going for in a simple fact in the neighbourhood with China, terrorism, potentially Pakistan I think that is why it takes maturity, it takes statesmanship it takes leadership and that's what I think Trump and Modi bring to the table. And that's what I think in united states people that are supporters of nationalism that Modi represents sees that win such a resounding victory particularly in India you may not have gotten all the negativity about Modi from the mainstream media. The same people that Trump hates him. Right? Every day it's just an onslaught how this is gonna be a tight race or how Modi you know all these different aspects for him to win such a resounding victory and for that If that victory would be his personal victory in the fact that you know the polling shows I think a third of voters were not the voters of BJP then Modi wouldn't end up with a ticket so this is very analogous to Reagan's second victory that he won the landslide win in the American history. I think Modi and trump make perfect partners perfect allies, the United States and India and we have to recognise the danger the situation in the Indo-pacific and particularly around the Indian ocean.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Mr Bannon let's talk about the media now. You know the beast like few others do, during the Donald Trump campaign, you said the media was behaving like an opposition party. Here, in India, Prime minister Modi has also been targeted by the media. The western media especially like the time magazine has branded him as a divider-in-chief. What would you say to this?
Steve Bannon: He was attacked by that on a cover story. This isn't what the story buried in the paper. This is a cover story. Look, my belief is the following Jair Bolsonaro, Salvini, Trump, Modi If you're a nationalist leader, If your leader puts in the interest of your country first the interests of the citizens of your country first, you're going to be attacked nonstop at the global by the people who support globalists and Time magazine's a perfect example and others and look like a person lives in the west a person lives between I lived in DC an New York in the United States I spent a lot of time in Europe and I read all the dailies the big English dailies and in Europe and the United States you know Modi is relentlessly attacked why is he attacked? Because he puts in India's interest first.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Mr Bannon, let's now talk about nationalism. It's been a big issue in the US, President trump's slogan was "Make America great again"; in India too, nationalism is a major issue. The BJP campaigned on this plank. Prime minister Modi has been talking about it, yet, some sections of society and media look down upon it. Do you think being a nationalist is wrong?
Steve Bannon: No, in fact, I think the exact opposite. I'm a nationalist. I think nationalism is basically supporting what I call the west family and the system are the treaty of west failure. For the last three hundred years essentially how the west and the world has run itself. Through individual nation stage in the west, a particularly Catholic church in the Christian has the subsidiarity it means pushing decision making down it's close to the citizens as possible cause that's where the little guy the common man has, most control.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Mr.Bannon, you've been a prominent campaign strategist. How do you see prime minister Modi's electoral win this time? What lessons does it have for leaders contesting elections elsewhere in the world?
Steve Bannon: It's a great question! and that's what i pointed Modi all the time is that no.1 be yourself Modi is a leader and I think that he comes from a humble origins he doesn't come across as arrogant or a mean person but a very humble person, a good person but he will not back down one inch of what he believes; and most importantly what he believes is in the interests of citizens of India and his nation. And that's what I tell and that's why I say this victory is so important, it's so important for other leaders to walk and say look do what Modi did. What Modi did what Reagan did. Reagan spoke to the common man and they connected. Reagan had the media guest who tried to destroy Reagan they tried to destroy Modi the same exact media companies who attacked Modi, attacked Reagan thirty and forty years ago. And Modi did not flinch he did not back up. He did not apologise in fact he doubled down and tripled down and because of the people of India what I think which is the only market that counts, said hey! I admire him you know I believe in him. When he says he is the watchman you know it took that thing, a very humble thing in humble districts of India. He connected with people and I think in a very difficult time with an economy that still won't turn around they said hey this is my guy and gave him a resounding victory so I tell every leader that I see and this is why I am so proud that we met, Shally years ago, six years ago now and he really got us thinking about Modi we were the first site to talk about Modi as Reagan and if you look at there has been no leader in the world stage over that period of time that is stucked in his believes and the citizens have rewarded him with an just an incredible landslide victory to empower him and frankly Modi now takes this position on the world stage because now he is a world leader.
this is a very significant time in Indian history and obviously, very important historical time with a geostrategic relationship between the west and China and India would be a central part of that and Modi would be one of the leaders in that.
Sudhir Chaudhary: So my next question is on right-wing. Do you see the rise of the right-wing globally now and especially after Modi's second victory.
Bannon: By Sunday I think or Monday Merkel will be pushed out of the Christian Democrats of Germany I think she will step down and I think Macron's gonna have a horrific internal polling that I just saw put the national rally under Le Pen at 25.5% and Macron in 23.5%, this will be an incredible stunning defeat for him. So, I think you are saying the rise of the nationalist parties, the rise of populist parties. I think Modi has been an example to many people in how to lead your country and how even things are tough and looks like they are not going away. What people don't want is the people to just back off and don't believe in anything. They want leaders who are authentic they want leaders who believe in themselves and believe in their cause and they are prepared to support that so yes, I think you are gonna see, many more what i call right-wing leaders cause I am a right-winger, in Latin America and I think you gonna see more of them in south Asia i think you have started seeing in south-east Asia i think this is a worldwide movement it's kind of common now thing that Modi identified years ago, the little guy the citizens want someone strong in the room representing their interests. When these types of deals are made that's what Trump represents that's what Farage represents that's what le Pen, Salvini, Bolsonaro, Abe and Prime Minister Modi.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Mr Bannnon now we can clearly see a global trend here like Mr Putin is back with a fresh mandate, Modi is back with a fresh mandate, Shinzo Abe in Japan is back with a fresh mandate and Netanyahu has also won another term; do you also see Mr Trump coming back to the office?
Steve Bannon: It's a great question. Listen, Trump's President for one central reason that the American working class particularly the upper midwest what we call rospel of Ohio in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pensylvania. And here is the country that Shally knows very well and quite frankly very helpful in 2016. He was a key part in the Hindu republican association which was a key element in our victory in 2016. He understands how tough it was and how tight that race was remembered we won by basically 75 thousand votes in five county states in the upper midwest states because Democrats just laughed at us and thought there's no way Trump could ever communicate with the Democrats and the working class people. President Trump is getting incredibly difficult re-election ahead of him. The economy in the United States is doing incredible. What president promised he has delivered all. Unfortunately, the reality is we have an opposition party media that's even stronger than it is India and it has been relentless everyday hammering president trump, hammering president trump, hammering president trump. Now it turns out we've lost the midterm elections in the House of Representative's a key thing because even though the Mueller report on the investigation is completely clear president trump they're now able to do it all over again what I call weaponise. And we are, sir, what I have said is one of the most ugly and difficult times in American political history since ...civil war it's very nasty every day they're tryna open another investigation on trump, on his family finances, his business, his taxes things totally unrelated to conduct of the president. But we have to remember we have an economy that's on fire right now 3.2% growth lowest black unemployment in history, lowest Hispanic unemployment in 40 years, lowest overall unemployment since 1969, wages are coming up, stock market's up, barn market is stable we couldn't have a better economic scenario for the United States and yet Trump is everyday he is relentlessly hit now. There's definitely a path of victory in his way it's the person came in as the CEO and headed up the campaign to lead it to victory for President Donald Trump. I see a path that he could win but it's gonna be very tough. And I don't think we're gonna know who the winner is until later in November 2020. President is very competitive i strongly believe he's gonna win and I think he is actually gonna win with bigger numbers than 2016 but your audience should understand this is gonna a very difficult, very very difficult very nasty election in the United States. You know it's very important Shally put on an event for us towards the end of the campaign and it was one of the most powerful events we had, it was able to energise us in driving forward but if you look at those upper midwest states, in fact, we're not gonna do something without Shally not related to campaign but related to China with Hindu-American association in late June in Illinois but is to get a word after those midwest states there's upper midwest is where the presidential election 2020 gonna be decided there. Joe Biden launches his campaign in Pennsylvania, Bernie Sanders launches campaign in Iowa. Everybody understands that those five or six states are where this gonna be decided. They're gonna be all over it. You can't win this one unless you got the Hindu-American and Hindu republican alliance as a partner like we had last time and Shally who is much more experience in politics than I am if this is gonna be if 2016 was tough this is gonna be even tougher.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Okay, lastly a personal question I'm told you are an avid reader of the Bhagavad Gita you follow the Hindu philosophy I'm very curious to know what got you so interested in Hindu mythology
Steve Bannon: Yes that's true I have read one of the most powerful books I am a Roman Catholic and I try to be as devoted as I can be I practising Catholic but one of the most powerful books as a young person I read was a book by a Frenchman called "Man and his becoming according to Vedanta" and that got me very interested in Hindu spirituality in the study of Hindu religions there's another book by a German professor called "the philosophies of India" professor name Heinrich Zimmer who wrote this book in the 1930s or 1940s, had a very powerful impact on me so I have studied and taken a lot of time of my life to study Hindu spirituality.
Sudhir Chaudhary: Mr. Bannon thank you so much for sharing your time sharing your thoughts and your perspective with us. It was good to have you with us. Thank you so much.
Steve Bannon: Thank you very much it was a great interview.