Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with Indian-origin senator Kamala Harris | Twitter/Joe Biden
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice president candidate Kamala Harris | Twitter | Joe Biden
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Why did Nimrata Randhawa change her name to Nikki Haley and does Kamala Harris identify as Black or of South Asian origin?

As US President Donald Trump narrowed the gap between himself and his opponent Joe Biden after the Republican national convention last week, the ‘South Asians for Biden’ advocacy group tweeted, “If America isn’t racist, why did Nimrata Haley feel compelled to change her name to Nikki?”

Why, indeed. You could argue that Nimrata wanted to assimilate, because she grew up in a Sikh family in South Carolina, with a father who “wore a turban” and a mother who “wore a sari.” Nikki was easier on the White Anglo-Saxon tongue, and in any case, “nikki” is a familiar, affectionate term of endearment in Punjab. It fitted the bill in every way.

Kamala Harris, meanwhile, has sent at least half of India – the southern half, because few people north of the Vindhyas understand what the Tamil word ‘chithis’ (aunt) means – into paroxysms of delight, as “one of our own” ascends the second-highest rung of the US political ladder.

Question is, does Haley’s defence of Trump against the charge of racism at the Republican National Convention last week mean that she leans towards the “Whiteness” scale? And what does it matter that Harris, who has admitted that her South Indian mother brought her up as a Black woman, is now choosing to add brown to black?


Also read: ‘Singa Pennae’ Kamala Harris will only help push India-US ties despite Modi-Trump bonding


A crucial community

Certainly, both Haley and Harris – and the Indian-American political elite — have come a long way since 2016, when a supporter of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal had had his portrait painted in a much lighter skin tone. (“Of course, I’m white,” Jindal had joked at the time, adding the “whole thing is silly.”)

But as both India and America well know, the “whole thing” is not silly at all. America still needs to hashtag the fact that #BlackLivesMatter in 2020 and when Miss New York Nina Davuluri won the Miss America contest earlier in August – days before Kamala Harris was named the Democratic vice-presidential candidate – she apparently woke up to a question in an Indian newspaper asking, “Is Miss America too dark to be Miss India?”

Still, the South Asian for Biden advocacy group has since apologised and deleted its tweet about Nikki ‘Nimrata’ Haley, fearful it might backfire on its own candidate. But for a second, as the curtain lifted, it showcased the seething bitterness between the Republicans and the Democrats and how the Indian-American community – and its crucial approximately 2 million voting population — is being pulled into the vortex.

For now, the rumour mill won’t stop speculating about Nikki Haley replacing Mike Pence as Trump’s vice-presidential candidate and making it a Haley-Harris direct fight. There’s no denying Haley’s interest in the top job, the main motivation for her trip to India in 2018, when she came to check out how the mother country might react. (It was lukewarm, sort of.)

If Nikki Haley does replace Pence, a man who has hardly been seen and even less heard these last four years, she is sure to charge up the fight. The math about the Indian-American community capable of tilting an election is no doubt being done by both sides.


Also read: Trump campaign releases first commercial featuring PM Modi to woo Indian-American voters


Abki baar, Trump sarkar?

First, the facts. In 2016, Trump won three “swing” states with slim margins — Michigan by 0.2 per cent, Pennsylvania by 0.7 per cent and Wisconsin by 0.8 per cent.

It so happens that the Indian American voting community is spread exactly across these three states – besides a little bit in  Arizona, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. It also happens that Trump’s wooing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in Texas with the “Howdy, Modi!” blockbuster meeting last year, followed up by his visit to India earlier this year, has succeeded in helping the Republicans infiltrate the Indian-American camp.

In 2016, about 77 per cent of the community voted for Hilary Clinton; as of 2018, only 50 per cent of registered Indian-American voters favour the Democrats. While 18 per cent identify as Republican, a significant 32 per cent said they were “non-identifiers”.

PM Modi’s ‘Abki baar, Trump sarkar’ has certainly been a great boon for Trumpians. Not for nothing does a Trump video released a few days ago insist that “America loves India,” with panoramic shots of the ‘Howdy, Modi’ event and Trump’s red carpet visit to India. Not for nothing does the ongoing virtual summit of the India-US Strategic Partnership Forum feature both Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, but no Democrat of any consequence so far.

But back home, India is already beginning to moderate itself. External affairs minister S. Jaishankar has insisted that “India is a common point” despite differences between the competing candidates. Meanwhile, India’s ambassador to the US, Taranjit Sandhu, has been busy “reconnecting” with influential Democrats.


Also read: India ‘overwhelmingly’ reaches out to Democrats as Biden and Harris woo Indian Americans


Hard politics

Certainly, the world is a much tougher place than it was in 2016 and there’s no higher forum to seek forgiveness for abandoning a bipartisan principle that gave India such enviable pre-eminence in the US elite as well as on the street.

In the Modi-Jaishankar school of foreign policy where power is everything, Trump had to be wooed no matter the high moral ground because there was so much at stake – beginning with the scrapping of Article 370, which Trump’s top diplomat for South Asia Alice Wells subsequently defended with such elan in the House foreign affairs committee, and ending with the confrontation of India’s chief rival, China.

For Modi’s India, the red carpet for Trump was a necessary gamble – which it won.

But as Biden leads the polls, Delhi has begun to argue that the US will have no option but to deal with Modi’s hardline on Kashmir because of the bigger picture – India is the only large enough country with the potential to stand up to China.

Certainly, China will be a common rallying point. The Indian argument — that hard politics will force the potential Biden-Harris team to overlook the bad blood from Jaishankar’s cancellation of a meeting with US lawmakers last December because it included Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had introduced a resolution urging India to lift restrictions in Kashmir — is sure to hold.


Also read: It’s our economy, not her genes, that’ll influence Kamala Harris’ view of India


Modi’s India for Trump

Biden has gone out of his way to woo Indian-Americans, releasing a campaign document for India on Independence Day and Kamala Harris urging South Asian women to participate in politics in larger numbers. “I want you to know that leadership begins the day you are born,” she told the South Asian for Biden advocacy group.

That’s the interesting thing this election. While the Indian-American community tends to lean towards Democrats, Modi’s India, in her heart of hearts, still favours Trump.

But whatever the result in November, India’s ultra-realist PM will surely emphasise the love between the oldest and largest democracies, much like his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh did with George Bush. After all, foreign policy is just a manifestation of the pure politics being wrung out at home.

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20 Comments Share Your Views

20 COMMENTS

  1. As rightly said , Joe Biden- Kamala Harris will lean towards china to boost American economy .They will understand only when they see China in its true colours . Both Joe and Kamala are anti Indian ; Particularly Kamala voices against article 370.abrogation, forgetting it is an internal matter and she as a responsible politician should not cross her limits. Both Joe and kamala will support Pakistan as pakistan is china’s stooge.. Indian American Hindus should not vote for Joe-Kamala for this reason . Joe is a weak character,, cannot come up with a bold independent policy for USA, his country .

  2. I don’t know where you are, but Indian americans are conservative in values and leaning. Maybe, you are referring to some aligned with CPI, CPM and muslims who want to vote against Trump. BTW, why are you interested in US elections ? Focus on India. India First since we say America First always. We need our President, not who vibes with foreigners.

  3. I didn’t surprise when I see theprint after reading the manipulative title. What do you mean by Modi’s India why not India. For your information. I rarely see Indians supporting Biden in US. I myself strong supporter of Trump.

  4. US democrats are closer to china than to India, due to business reasons. Their loss is good for India.
    But Indian americans don’t see this. They tend to be “liberal”. republican’s anti-immigrant attitude also adds up.

  5. Your very first sentence contains a lie. Do I need to read further?

    Nimrata Randhawa did not change her name just like that. Her birth document includes Nikki as her middle name and she married a person named haley. So why are you spreading fake news?

  6. How many times must one repeat this. Indians, Indian-American represent less than 3% of the US Population. Many are not eligible to vote, not able to vote and do not vote. In essence, this reduces the voting number to less than 1%. A 1% margin will make no difference in a presidential election. More so in case of the famous argumentative Indians.

  7. Your assessments about the Indian American community are way overblown. What matters is the actual number of registered voters that take the trouble to go to polling station, and vote.. The voting record of the community is not very good. 2. Both the sides in the election are wooing every single voter, not just Indian American community. Also, this time around, things are also different. Democratic candidate Joe Biden is leading Trump in every so-called battleground state. So the community in these states is not so critical to the outcome of the election as is being made out to be. 3. Kamala Harris didn’t do very well during the primaries, and dropped out for lack of funds. Nor was her support among the black Americans was very good. In fact the white Elizabeth Warren had more support from the blacks. Kamala Harris was picked by Joe Biden as his running mate because she was black, and also for her age, among other reasons. It wasn’t that there weren’t other good candidates.

  8. Wow. Wow. Jyoti … don’t become another Barkha Dutt who went on to quote Stanford Twitter trail to predict Hilary Clinton win… the end result was Donald Trump. Wait till the first Tuesday, immediately after Monday of November this year. Everyone will know the outcome eExactly on Nov 14.

  9. Trump is unreliable and unsteady. What has he done for India? Nothing. Biden is a better candidate as far as India is concerned.

  10. You are wring. It’s all leftists like you who imagine that Indians are voting for Trump. Though I and many of us don’t like Trump, we are voting for him as Biden is pandering to Pakistani origin campaign staffers and Harris is doing the same for Ilhan (mullah) Omar. BTW I and most of my friends voted for Hillary in 2016.

  11. Bad assessment of people of Indian origin in America and their mood. They are fully in favour of Trump. The Biden-Harris ticket is totally unsuitable for their mood. They are 3.5 million in America with high income bracket hence are wanted by the Democrats. But their memory of bad policies towards India by Clinton, Obama and a whole lot of officials of that era leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It is Trump who corrected all that, hence Trump is favoured.

    I am saying that because I have lived in North America for the last 50 years, I have seen all that.

  12. In any school of foreign policy – somehow the phrase sounds very pretentious, like Idea of India – it is only about National Interest, not the pursuit of power in domestic politics. 2. We should not overestimate our salience to a Biden White House. Some years ago, an investment banker had asked rhetorically, If they ( foreign investors ) do not come to India, where will they go ? 3. India as a natural foil to China. Something which had looked almost inevitable a few years ago is being stress tested. Each capital in the world is observing intently.

  13. I am yet to meet an Indian American who will be voting Democrats this time around. We would rather vote for a redneck than a Hinduphobic Kamala.

    • Rubbish, Sam. Many Indian-Americans including the Hindu American Foundation are solidly Democrat. Don’t spout blatant untruths.

      • Why rubbish. Stop telling lies. You must be a Pakistani who loves Biden using Indian name. Why you pull Hindu American foundation favoring you. I have seen Indian Americans that like Biden rarely but I am seeing so many standing for Trump. Don’t spout blatant untruths. The way you are reacting for sure must be Congress bakth or Chineese Bhakti or Congress Bhakti. I don’t surprise even if you are some communist crazy fellow from India.

  14. The person who is fair, honest and keeps the interest of America and the world needs to be in the White House.

    Not a racist, dishonest and a despot even if he supports India. Or is that the level from which we think.

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