File photo | Attendees cheer as PM Narendra Modi (not pictured) speaks during the Howdy Modi Community Summit in Houston, Texas| Photo: Scott Dalton | Bloomberg
File photo | Attendees cheer as PM Narendra Modi (not pictured) speaks during the Howdy Modi Community Summit in Houston, Texas| Photo: Scott Dalton | Bloomberg
Text Size:

Indian Americans have traditionally voted for the Democratic Party in overwhelming numbers but many community leaders say a subterranean shift towards the Republican Party is underway in the upcoming presidential election.

Interestingly, the reason for the reported “shift” is the mother country – India. How the two candidates and their political establishments deal with India in terms of policy has become an important criterion for support this election cycle.

On one side is data driven analysis by Democrats and on the other are Zoom meetings, WhatsApp groups, and word-of-mouth. Yet, the top Democrats are worried enough they are taking steps to address any potential shift of votes by organising more events aimed solely at Indian Americans rather than treat them as a small part of the larger Asian American and Pacific Islander community or AAPI.

In the narrative about the “shift,” the incumbent, President Donald Trump, is seen as a strong friend of India while Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee and former vice president, is viewed as being under the influence of forces unfriendly to India, mainly the party’s “progressive” wing. Trump’s enthusiastic presence at two big rallies with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston and Ahmedabad impressed Indian Americans, especially the older generation voters.

On the other side, Biden’s “Agenda for Muslim-American Communities” in which the candidate criticised India’s actions in Jammu & Kashmir irked many Indian Americans, including life-long Democrats. They see the criticism, which is mild compared to what Indians themselves have leveled against Modi, as “interference” in India’s internal affairs and an attack on India’s “sovereignty.”

It’s undeniable that domestic Indian politics and the Hindu-Muslim divide have become issues to an extent never seen before in a US presidential election. Since last year, left wing groups and Muslim organisations have been targeting India in the US Congress, in city councils and state legislatures on the Kashmir issue which has further divided the Indian American community along religious lines, splitting the support base of the Democratic Party.

For the first time, the Democrats may have to fight for the Indian American vote, especially that of the older generation. The younger generation remains firmly with the Democratic Party. It is in fact in the forefront criticizing India, something that also deeply irks the “uncles and aunties” as the first generation is jokingly called.


Also read: Boring Joe Biden chooses boring Kamala Harris for VP. But it’s a logical choice


Democratic Party strategists have got the message loud and clear. Attempts are being made to plug the breach. There is more outreach, more campaigning at the grassroots level and more targeted advertising. Last month the Biden campaign released an ad blitz in 14 Indian languages clearly influenced by political slogans in India.

In a first for the party, candidate Biden will address the community on August 15 – a date chosen with great care – along with his senior advisors Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan both of whom are expected to get top positions in his administration should he win. The party is clearly going beyond Indian American fundraisers where the rich drink to each other’s health to the wider community outside Silicon Valley and Wall Street.

Last month, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez addressed a virtual gathering of 800 Indian Americans along with Richard Verma, a former ambassador to India, to make the case their votes matter greatly, especially in battleground states. A total of 1.4 million Indian American voters reside in nine battleground states including Wisconsin (37,000), Pennsylvania (156,000), Florida (193,000) and Michigan (125,000).

Research shows that 52,194 Indians gained US citizenship in 2018, second only to Mexicans and became potential voters. Indian Americans are the third largest group in the larger Asian American population after the Chinese and Filipino. In 2016, a whopping 77% of Indian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. After Trump’s victory, 37% said they had a “very unfavourable” view of him, according to a Post-Election National Asian American Survey conducted by Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science and public policy at the University of California.

But something has shifted over the last three and half years of the Trump presidency. Despite his disruptive foreign and domestic policies, he has supported India on most key issues, offered to sell weapons that previous administration had denied, cut military aid to Pakistan, helped secure the release of the Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan and has strongly supported India in its current border standoff with China.

For Indian American supporters, Trump’s refusal to get into India’s internal affairs tops the list of admirable traits that must be rewarded. His open embrace of Hindus has also helped – he was the first presidential candidate to attend a rally organised by a group called “Republican Hindu Coalition” in New Jersey in 2016. It led to the slogan “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar” for his ad campaign.

In fact, this year a new group calling itself “Hindus4Trump” is making waves in some states, claiming attendance by 100,000 Indian Americans at a recent virtual rally for the president. The claim can’t be independently verified but organisers insist 30,000 people watched it live on various social media platforms while 70,000 watched it shortly after.


Also read: Why Kamala Harris, with Indian & Black heritage, is a safe and smart choice for US VP


Raj Bhayani, one of the co-founders, told me that the group is not against Muslims or what Biden says to support them. But Biden has made no appeal to Hindu Americans. “Where’s his agenda for us?” The Biden campaign is unlikely to change its lexicon – if anything the left wing prefers the label “South Asians” rather than Indian or Pakistani American.

Interestingly, Indian American supporters of Trump dismiss his actions against H-1B visas, green cards and Indian students as temporary political moves which don’t have any real impact since international flights are largely suspended and travel is limited because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Once the Corona virus is gone and flights resume, things will be back to normal. What’s the point of giving visas when colleges are closed?”, a Trump supporter asked.

The Democrats have the exact opposite view of Trump’s visa policies. Ambassador Richard Verma, a well-respected policy advisor, called Trump anti-immigrant and “flagrantly racist” at a virtual rally last month. He said Trump had treated Indian students and green card holders poorly and pulled up the “welcome mat.”

The Democratic Party’s list of pro-India policies includes Biden’s strong support for Indo-US civil nuclear deal, which Verma says wouldn’t have gone through if not for the shepherding by then Senator Biden who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

They also cite the fact that former president Barack Obama visited India twice, including as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade. He was the first US president to be invited as chief guest. Obama also became the first US president to support India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and declare India a “major defence partner” of the US to allow for transfer of sophisticated weapons and technology.

But over the past year, Democrats have got attention for attacking and criticizing India more than for supporting it. Many Democrats have strongly criticised Modi’s policies in Kashmir and his Hindutva philosophy. They have held Congressional hearings, which many said were driven by special interest groups, not by a genuine need for inquiry.

Younger, left-leaning, social justice Democrats have made India and Modi’s policies a special target. That Indian American members of the House of Representatives – Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna – are in the forefront of the attacks has angered many community leaders.

Democrats defend the spotlight on India’s human rights record. They say friends should be able to have frank conversations with each other about differences. They remain confident that a majority of the 2.5 million Indian American voters will go for Biden in keeping with the tradition.

But there is no question that today the Democrats have an “India problem” just as Modi has a “Democrat” problem.

Seema Sirohi @seemasirohi is a columnist based in Washington DC. Views are personal.

The article was first published on the Observer Research Foundation website.


Also read: She’s ‘meanest, the most horrible, most disrespectful’ – Trump’s reaction to Kamala for VP


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.

Support Our Journalism

16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. Recent statements by both Biden and Kamala Harris offering support to Kashmir Muslims has created a huge uproar among Indian Americans. I am witnessing many many Indian Americans abandoning Biden and shifting to Trump. Huge damage has been done. India’s Modi has 78% approval ratings in India. Majority of US Indians are Modi supporters. Biden will have to do something to stop the bleeding. It may be already too late. I can’t believe Biden made those statements without giving any thoughts to Indian issue.

    • Ms Monica Dunlap: You make 2 cardinal mistakes in your analysis

      1: You assume that the Indian American population in the USA is homogeneous and mirrors the same religious distribution one sees in India, i.e. that there is a very overwhelming Hindu majority.

      2: Related to item 1 above, you assume that the vast support Modi garners in India (78%) would also be seen in Indian Americans.

      Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Fact is, barring upper caste North Indian Hindus, Modi is despised – I reiterate despised – by all other religious groupings. And in the South of India, he is no great hero and the BJP has lost all South Indian states save Karnataka. For instance, in Kerala, he is widely reviled.

      According to Pew Research Centre, the religious composition of Indian Americans does not match their religious composition back in India. In the Research paper “5 facts about Indian Americans”, one notes the following:

      “.. Not all Indian Americans are Hindu. Only about half (51%) .. are Hindu .. 18% .. identified themselves as Christians .. 10% .. were Muslim. The religious shares of Indian Americans are markedly different from those of India itself (where an estimated 79.5% of the population is Hindu and only 2.5% is Christian ..”

      In addition, roughly 5% are Sikhs.

      (The entire report is available at: ref: pewrsr.ch/3iSLqHr)

      Indians have traditionally voted for Democrats and that might not change significantly, especially given Trump’s white supremacist leanings. Trump’s racism towards non-whites also affects Indians in no small measure and that has not gone unnoticed. Remember the shooting of Srinivas Kuchibotla in Kansas in 2017 by a white supremacist inspired by Trump’s rhetoric? Remember Trump trashing Indian call centres? Even Mocking Modi’s accent ?

      Yes, many Hindus who are in thrall to Modi’s anti Muslim policies and poorly concealed hatred of Muslims see a kindred in spirit in Trump’s who is also a Muslim hater. But these Hindus forget that thanks to Trump, out in the streets of USA, any brown man is likely to be regarded as a Muslim and comes in the cross hairs of the US extreme right. Just ask Sikhs and they will tell you about the violence and persecution they face in the US.

      And then you have Trump’s open misogyny, contempt for powerful women, his cavorting with prostitutes, the hush monies to silence women he wants out of his life and so on – are all vices that will not exactly endear him to the traditional Indian woman. Unlikely that he will get much of the female Indian vote.

      Trump and his aide Stephen Miller have done their best to polarise the US along racial and religious lines. Sure, sections of the Hindu right wing in USA, inspired as it is by Modi’s Hindutva will vote for anybody who hates Muslims, including a xenophobe like Trump. But Indians who are Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and the vast majority of 2nd and 3rd generation kids of Hindu migrants remain solidly in the Democratic camp. And they are astute enough to recognise that their own survival and prospects in the USA are best assured by a White House committed to their welfare and not events in distant Kashmir that might bolster Modi’s career. They live in the USA, not in India and certainly not Kashmir. Their loyalties are to the USA, not India.

      • What a pragmatic and a matter-of -fact analysis done by you Kili Jolsiyar of the subject concerning election prospects of the two main contenders in the US in response to the comment of Ms. Monica Dunlap. I am sure if Mr. Trump happens to see this he would definitely reserve an expletive or two for you; but that should not matter in anyway. Messrs Trump and Modi, as has been proved beyond doubt now, are both detrimental to the cause of humanity and hence both should lose, and lose humiliatingly.

  2. Come on! indian americans, do u guys really want your engineering jobs to be taken away by the hl-b visa holders???hl-b visa holders cannot vote right so all the american indian voters are the USA citizens capable of voting…so don’t put urself into ruins in the name of kamala being half indian. In times like this family is important than your indian heritage, I do not like trump but I am definitely liking his policies, he is the reason we got engineering jobs..we nd our friends had hard time getting jobs due to indian managers who won’t give us jobs even if we are totally eligible, they will take gifts from recruiting agency and hire hl-b workers for low pay..many interviews no luck..later we get news from the company insiders that they hired low paid hl-b works…atlas trump denied visa renewal and some vacancies opened up.. nd we got jobs..eventhough the salary is below market level at least we can feed our children..do we have any choice..when I talk to other Asian american engineers they say the same..they are afraid joe/ Kamala’s liberal immigration laws will take away their jobs so eventhough they hate trump and his speeches still we are forced to vote for trump for the sake of our family

    • Nonsense Jenna ! You get your figures wrong and your analysis is flawed to say the least.

      So some Stats:

      1: The H1B quota for 2020 was 65,000 visas
      2. An additional 20,000 may be issued to graduates of US universities who have completed a Masters or a Doctorate. These are people already in the US as students
      3: Nearly 68% i.e roughly 44,000 of these went to Indians.
      4:Total demand from US employers for H1B was 275,000
      5: Total number of Indians in USA in 2015 according to Pew Research 3.98 millions (ref: pewrsr.ch/3iPO0xZ)

      I have not dug into how many of these 3.9 millions are working, studying, retired, children etc etc. But nonetheless, the number of arrivals through the H1B is miniscule and will hardly cause any economic fallout for Indians already in the US, Trump’s idiotic fearmongering notwithstanding.

      But most importantly, you forget that demand from US firms i.e. 275,000 highly skilled workers is not matched by the supply which in reality is about 65,000 going perhaps upto 85,000. Now you do not need a Master’s in economics to grasp that H1B arrivals will not create unemployment for residents like you. Your claim that your children will go hungry is nothing but bullshit, I mean cow dung to be politically correct to Hidnutva types like you.

      Indeed, what you should be worried about is what firms will do when they don’t get their demand for workers supplied through H1B. Turns out, US firms simply move to countries where the labour is available, according to a study by University of Chicago. And that means more job losses in the US, lost of tax revenues to the US, no consumption in the US and so on. Indeed, a much more terrible outcome for the US.

      In any case, Biden-Harris have not published anything about their immigration policies and I don’t know where you get these falsehoods from.

      Let me guess: You work for the BJP IT cell. Or is the Overseas friends of the BJP ? And trying hard to get a racist, tax dodging, draft dodging misogynist re-elected. Shame on you !

    • I would like to delve into economic theory a bit to show how absurd your ideas are. What you are trouting here is sometimes called the “lump of labour fallacy”, the notion that the amount of jobs in a country is a constant and immigration eats into this fixed lump.

      In reality, labour in a country is not a fixed amount but something that changes all the time as old jobs are destroyed and new ones are created. Additionally new workers who move in will increase demand. For instance, the arrival of more people will mean that more food will be consumed, more clothes bought, more cars purchased etc. etc. And that will create more jobs, not less.

      Your suggestion that H1B arrivals will create more unemployment is simply bonkers.

  3. Democrats in their quest to be liberal have pushed the envelope too much. Most of them they are in support of things which doesn’t resonate with majority of the population and only give heft to the narrative of the SJW and third wave feminism. Their stance has always been anti-India in the context of Kashmir. Most of them don’t know a damn thing about Kashmir but they just try to show that they are all understanding and always there for the human rights. This is all but true and most of what they do is mere virtue signalling. Accept it or not but Trump has been very Pro India in his stance towards India and Republicans have always been this way because they look at a wider global and geopolitical picture and not the issues which are totally unrelevant in the world.

  4. This reaction of Indian Americans proves that wealth and education is highly overrated as far as our ability to judge what’s right and wrong is concerned. I personally believe from my own first hand experience that education of any type is completely ineffective in developing conscience and morality. Wisdom, which I prefer over degrees, is the key and has nothing to do with education, but is closely related with intelligence and experience. And again, intelligence has nothing to do with education too.

    What education is good for is giving you some means to earn your living. Even in that the type of education that is implied in this context (political enlightment) just serves as a parameter for hierarchy setting in your job profile and has nothing to with real employability or skillfulness. Education is really used only by a countably few who actually create or discover something new– inventors and scientists. The rest of us only use education to fill us with hubris.

    Modi has brought nothing good to India, except hate and misery. Yet I support the scraping of Article 370, because nothing else was the option, if not the solution. But the unrest in Kashmir that ultimately led to the scraping increased exponentially after 2014 is also a fact.

    I am cent percent sure of two things: 1) Modi will completely fail India in almost all measurable fields for the next 5 to 10 years. 2) Inspite of that he will remain there at the top, both of our head and (thus) of our country.

  5. Another statement by democrats on Kashmir and it’s game over. I support Republicans because they have been historically supporting of India.

    • Bharat Bhakt: You fail all the Tebbit tests mister !

      Should you not be worried about policies that are good for your country and your own community in the country where you reside? Or are you the equivalent of a fifth column in the USA, choosing what is best for India and not the USA? Such allegations led to the mass internment of Japanese during World war 2 as they were perceived – albeit wrongly – as being potential traitors. Want that to happen to Indian immigrants in the USA now ?

      And in any case, Donald Trump has destroyed the Republican Party and it is now Trump’s Party. Prominent, decent Republicans do not ally themselves with Trump and have all warned about this drift to fascism and racism by Trump and his corrupt cronies.

      As the British writer George Orwell (1903-1950) presciently wrote:

      “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices”

      People like you are not only a mild, relatively harmless version of a fifth column in the USA, you are also an accomplice to the criminality of a misogynistic, racist, fascist, corrupt, tax-dodging charlatan. Who paradoxically cons you into giving him your vote but hates your race! Talk of hara-kiri !

  6. The so-called “battleground states”, i. e. Wisconsin), Pennsylvania, and Michigan, were “battleground states” in 2016 election. In 2020, they are no longer battleground states, where Biden leads Trump by huge margins (in Wisconsin the margin is small). Moreover, if the India-origin community is split between Biden and Trump, other minority communities such as Chinese, Filipinos, Mexicans, etc. would be solidly behind Biden. So there wouldn’t be any battles in the “battleground states”, and no one community would decide election result.

  7. Every group (Jews, Indians etc) need certain critical Business mass, a threshold in population and in academia before it makes a critical political impact. With less than 2% of the US population, the Indian crowd is still in random isolated glories we read about now and then.

  8. RO Khanna, Pramila Jayapal and above all Kamala Harris, call them anti BJP if you want, will swing the Indian American vote for Biden and Harris. Why? Because they would be voting for a possible Indian origin American President in 2024, when Biden, 78, wouldn’t be able to run for President. Kamala, not Modi and not Hindu-Muslim propaganda in India is calling the shots in the US Presidential Election.

    It would be a proud moment for India if she becomes US Vice President this year and possibly US President in 2024. So why is the BJP Govt, our Foreign Ministry, indeed PM Modi silent about such a momentous possibility? Because of the ‘Howdy Modi’ faux pass in which PM Modi was seen supporting Trump for re-election as President? Or because Kamala Harris came in support of US House of Representatives Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (also of Indian origin) who had introduced a Resolution in the House attacking Modi Govt’s alleged human rights violations in Kashmir?

    It was Foreign Minister Jaishankar who screwed up the Modi scene with the Democrats. On his visit to US in Dec 2019 he had refused to attend a meeting of US House Foreign Affairs Committee, because Ms Jayapal was also scheduled to be present in that meeting along with other lawmakers. Kamala Harris, the first US Senator of Indian origin, had snubbed Modi Govt saying: ‘It is wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill. I stand with @RepJayapal, and I’m glad her colleagues in the House did too’.

    Pramila Jayapala’s Resolution had, among other things called for an end to communication restrictions ‘and mass arrests in Kashmir’. It had accused the Modi Govt of using ‘the Public Safety Act to preventatively detain people for a broad range of activities that are vaguely defined and without charge for up to 2 years in some cases, including human rights defenders, journalists, political leaders…’

    The perceived opposition to Kamala and Biden could prove to be the most costly foreign policy error for the Modi Govt.

    • Did you see how Modi used “tu-tadak” with President Obama, and then immediately #Howdy Modi and #Namaste Trump with Obama’s extreme adversary. How Modi will react if Biden comes to power is more than obvious.

    • Yes, you are quite right. The head of a Hindutva fringe organisation has declared that by 2020 or perhaps by 2024, the entire world will be a Hindu Rashtra. We are perhaps well on that path, Mr Ram.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here