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Steve Bannon once tried to start a right-wing media outlet in India

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Reuters/Win McNamee
Taking nationalism to the east.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Donald Trump’s chief strategist has suggested (inaccurately) that there are “too many” Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley and seems committed to reducing the influence of foreign workers in the United States. That’s the “economics nationalist” in Steve Bannon, as he once described himself. But if you turn the clock back to a year before the November 2016 elections, you’ll find that businessman Bannon’s grand plan for his right-wing online portal, Breitbart News, involved expanding in one of the world’s fastest growing economies—India.

On March 02, The Daily Beast resurfaced a November 2016 blog post by Amit Varma, an Indian author and journalist who recounted meeting with Bannon at the latter’s New York office exactly one year before. The former banker and filmmaker had then offered Varma the opportunity to spearhead Breitbart India.

Before the meeting, two-time Bastiat awardee Varma was not aware that Breitbart was an alt-right site, he claims. “I didn’t even know the term then. All I knew was that they were a conservative site, and that was enough for me to say no,” Varma wrote. “I was a libertarian, I said, pro-immigration, pro-gay rights, and it didn’t fit.” Even though the My Friend Sancho author declined the offer, Bannon’s demeanor remained “warm and courteous,” Varma wrote.

But it wasn’t just the lack of a professional fit that made Varma think that the expansion plan was a bad idea.

According to Varma, Bannon, in 2015, saw in the newly-elected Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, a conservatism akin to that of former US president Ronald Reagan. Varma writes that he tried to dissuade him of the notion:

‘It’s incongruent,’ I said. ‘There is no analog of American conservatism in India. The Indian right is driven by bigotry and nativism, with no deeper guiding philosophy behind it. [Consider the irony of these words.] You will not find any Burkean conservatives here. Don’t come.’

In his post, Varma notes that he had been a firm critic of the Congress, India’s ruling party before Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party came into power, and now he challenges Modi, too. “He is right-wing on social issues, left-wing on economics, and thus an enemy of freedom in every respect,” Varma writes of the Indian prime minister.

As for Breitbart’s India expansion plan, Varma was relieved to have passed up on Bannon’s offer after becoming better acquainted with the alt-right movement during the campaign trail last year. “I’m still glad that I didn’t explore their offer further. I could have been somewhat richer, maybe even influential, if I’d taken it up—but I sleep well at night now, and that’s what matters,” he wrote.

Breitbart, which is US-headquartered, has international editions for London and Jerusalem. In 2016, it announced plans to launch sites in France and Germany.

Despite multiple attempts to reach Bannon, Quartz did not receive comments confirming or denying Varma’s account. There was no word on Breitbart’s former (or future) plans to enter India either. But even just to picture Bannon attempting to hire an Indian national is ironic enough, considering the deep concern in India over Bannon’s new boss’s pledge to clamp down on the H-1B visa program, which allows foreigners to work in the US. Indian companies and Indian citizens are by far the biggest beneficiaries of the program.

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