Bussa Krishna Built a Trump Shrine in India. Then He Collapsed.

The Four Percent

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NEW DELHI — In India, where throngs admire President Trump, one rural farmer worshiped him like a god, praying to a life-size statue of Mr. Trump in his backyard every morning.

His village’s headman said that the young farmer, Bussa Krishna, had been drawn to Mr. Trump’s “straightforward ways and blunt speech.”

When Mr. Trump announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, it devastated Mr. Krishna. The farmer posted a tearful video on Facebook, in which he said: “I feel very sad that my god, Trump, has contracted the coronavirus. I ask everyone to pray for his speedy recovery.”

He stopped eating to show solidarity with his idol’s suffering from Covid-19, his family said. He fell into a deep depression. On Sunday, he died of cardiac arrest.

Mr. Krishna’s devotion had made him into a minor celebrity in his country, and he was the subject of national headlines. His death made news across India.

One of his cousins, Vivek Bukka, said that Mr. Krishna had been physically fit and had no health problems or history of heart disease. There is no evidence linking Mr. Krishna’s death to his fasting.

There is no indication that the White House or Mr. Trump — who said he had recovered from the virus and felt “powerful” after being treated with a cocktail of drugs — was aware of his biggest fan in India.

Many of the country’s urban intellectuals dislike the American president, and he is regularly mocked on Indian social media platforms. But Mr. Trump has broad support among Indians: A February study by the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of people surveyed in India said that Mr. Trump would “do the right thing when it comes to world affairs,” up from 16 percent when he was elected.

Mr. Trump’s popularity in some parts of India is notable because the cult of personality he has tried to cultivate — an unapologetically brash figure leading the United States to a bright new future while espousing “America First” — mirrors how India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, projects himself to his own supporters.

Mr. Krishna, a widowed farmer in his 30s who lived in the village of Konne in the southern state of Telangana, had been a Trump devotee for about four years.

He became a fan when the president appeared to him in a dream, his relatives said, and predicted that India’s national cricket squad would beat its archrival, Pakistan, in a match the next day.

India won, “and from that day he started worshiping Donald Trump,” said Mr. Vivek, Mr. Krishna’s cousin.

“At first everyone in the family thought he was mentally disturbed, but he kept at it and everyone eventually came around,” Mr. Vivek said.

The farmer deeply admired the president as a leader, said Mr. Vivek, 25, who lives near the southern city of Hyderabad. Neighbors did not know much about American politics and had no opinion of Mr. Trump, he added. But since Mr. Krishna was such a huge fan, they embraced his cause as a courtesy, even if it struck them as a little odd.

As Mr. Krishna’s devotion to Mr. Trump intensified, he began fasting every Friday, and he commissioned the construction of a shrine in his backyard with the life-size statue, Mr. Vivek said. He worshiped it with Hindu rituals for an hour or two each morning, as one might when praying to Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha or other gods in the Hindu pantheon.

One video of Mr. Krishna that has circulated widely online shows him performing a prayer ritual, or pooja, before an altar that holds a picture of Mr. Trump. In another, he wears a T-shirt that reads “Trump” in white block letters as he pours water over the head of the statue, which is wearing a red tie and a garland of fresh flowers, and giving a thumbs-up.

Mr. Krishna’s obsession with Mr. Trump echoes that of people in other countries. In Afghanistan, a couple named their third child Donald Trump. The father admired the tycoon in Mr. Trump. But later, saying he no longer felt safe as a Trump supporter, he and his family fled Afghanistan. Mr. Krishna’s creation of a statue of Mr. Trump is also not unique. An architect built a giant wooden statue of Mr. Trump with vampire’s teeth in Slovenia, the native country of the first lady, Melania Trump. Some critics denounced it as a “waste of wood.”

That statue’s creator, Tomaz Schlegl, an architect, told Reuters, “I want to alert people to the rise of populism, and it would be difficult to find a bigger populist in this world than Donald Trump.”

A life-size wooden sculpture of Mrs. Trump, meanwhile, near the town of Sevnica, Slovenia, was set on fire. The commissioning artist replaced it with a bronze statue.

As for Mr. Krishna, he made a valiant attempt to meet his idol. He traveled to the United States Embassy in New Delhi ahead of Mr. Trump’s trip to India in February to try to arrange a meeting, said Vemula Venkat Goud, the headman of Mr. Krishna’s village.

“It’s really sad that his dream never came true,” he added.

Mr. Krishna kept the faith until the end.

When he learned of Mr. Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis, he locked himself in his room, Mr. Vivek said. “We tried to force him to eat, but he barely ate anything,” he said.

On Sunday, Mr. Krishna collapsed, and his relatives took him to the hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival. Mr. Krishna is survived by his parents and his 7-year-old son.

The village headman said his neighbors were discussing how best to maintain their neighbor’s Trump shrine.

Shalini Venugopal Bhagat reported from New Delhi, and Mike Ives from Hong Kong. S.M. Bilal contributed reporting from Hyderabad, India.



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