“Trumpistan” is India’s new cable news show all about Donald Trump
“While you were sleeping, Trump has struck another blow. Another executive order, another visa ban, another rude phone call. With Trump, the next disaster is just one tweet away.”
So goes the intro to “Trumpistan,” a new morning program on one of India’s largest English-language cable news stations. The show, which focuses on all things President Donald Trump beginning at 8:30 every weekday morning, was created after executives at CNN News18 saw viewership spike whenever Trump was the subject of the network’s coverage during the 2016 U.S. election.
India’s 1.25 billion–plus people have a dynamic domestic news cycle of their own to follow, and Trump has said relatively little publicly about the world’s largest democracy. So why would Indians care about Trump? The answer may be obvious to anyone who watches Indian — or American — television.
“Anything loud sells,” said Kasturi Mittra, the CNN News18 senior producer who runs “Trumpistan.” “You have the loudest man sitting at the helm [of the United States]. He’s obnoxious… he’s a caricature.”
Indian cable news has boomed in the last 15 years, and today the country boasts several 24-hour news channels aired in various languages. Much as it is in America, cable news in India is dominated by fiery debate shows with combative moderators and eye-catching graphics. (Indian news shows have in the past been the targets of both “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight.”) Appetite for that kind of theatrical news programming, Mittra says, makes Trump the perfect subject.
“Trumpistan” may also appeal to some viewers because Trump reminds them of their own leader — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Frequent comparisons have been made between the two; both rose to power on waves of anti-establishment sentiment and have been accused, along with their supporters, of pushing brands of nationalism that threaten tolerance and minority rights. Some of Modi’s far-right backers hail Trump as a kindred spirit in an emerging “era of the strongman.”
But the comparisons go only so far.
“Modi is a serious politician… who has gravitas,” said Pallavi Basu, a deputy news editor who often anchors “Trumpistan.” “Many people now are not taking Trump seriously, because he’s just speaking anything that comes into his mind.”
The night before every show, producers at a studio in Noida, just outside of Delhi, track the Trump administration’s day in the U.S. in order to have an array of topics ready for Mittra to consider when she arrives at the studio at 7 a.m. — which is 8:30 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast. When the show goes live 90 minutes later, events in Washington are often continuing to develop, allowing the show to provide viewers with real-time Trump updates.
Shows regularly feature photos of Trump cycling on a loop behind the anchor as she walks viewers through the latest updates in “Trumpistan.” The show also frequently runs clips of American CNN panelists like Dana Bash and Van Jones.
Last Wednesday morning, the show’s broadcast overlapped with Trump’s Tuesday-night joint address to Congress. The speech marked the first time he spoke about the shooting of two Indian men in an apparent hate crime in Kansas (one of the men was killed). The fact that Trump mentioned the shooting — and the fact that it took him nearly a week to do so — garnered a great deal of attention in India.
It was a rare opportunity for the show’s lead story to be India-centric. While the speech played live, a graphic of a grinning Trump in front of an American flag was periodically replaced by headlines like “Trump: Sorry For Kansas,” “Trump Begins Address By Condemning Kansas Attack,” and “Trump: Attack on Indians Racially Motivated.”
The show’s intense focus on the attack mirrored the fear Indians have for the safety of loved ones in the U.S., anxiety that became heightened in recent days after two more shootings — one in North Carolina and another in Washington state, where a Sikh man was allegedly told to “go back to your country” before being shot.
There are also concerns in India about the extent to which Trump may crack down on the H1-B visa program. About 70 percent of all H1-B visas, which allow skilled foreign workers to be in the U.S., were awarded to Indians last year. Last week, the Trump administration suspended the ability of U.S. companies to pay extra to expedite the visas.
As Trump continues to make news in India and all over the world, the makers of “Trumpistan” plan to evolve the show. Mittra says she hopes to make it “more quirky” to match the man currently in the Oval Office, and in the meantime, she says she’s not worrying about the potential instability of basing an Indian show entirely around a single volatile, embattled, American politician.
“With this guy, obviously it won’t end,” she said. “As long as he’s sitting in that office, I don’t think there’ll ever be any dearth of news.”