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
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has long enjoyed the visible support of many in the Indian-American community. However, in the past, groups of Indian-Americans have also effectively mobilised to challenge the BJP’s Hindu nationalist vision for India. Today, as large sections of the Indian public rise up against the Modi government’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens, and it responds with unprecedented ferocity, it is time for Indian-Americans to re-engage in a moral debate and express support for a vibrant, democratic, and multi-hued India.

The Indian-American community is reflective of the diversity of India. There are an estimated 46 lakh people of Indian origin in the United States. About two-thirds of them are under the age of 18. A strong majority of Indian-Americans who are US citizens support the Democratic Party, and have fairly liberal political views.

As part of my research on the South Asian diaspora, I had written an article about the Indian-American community’s perceptions of Narendra Modi, while he was still the chief minister of Gujarat. I found that Americans of Indian origin were deeply divided over him. While some supported Modi enthusiastically; others actively opposed him. This latter group had a significant policy impact. In 2005, they were able to persuade the US government to deny Modi a visa to enter the US because of his poor track record in human rights and the 2002 Gujarat riots. This ban stayed in place till 2014.

After becoming Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi has visited the US on multiple occasions, and has addressed rapturous crowds of Indian-Americans. The latest instance of this was the ‘Howdy, Modi!‘ show in Houston in September 2019. While protesters demonstrated outside the event; their efforts were dwarfed by the 50,000 people in attendance at the stadium, where Modi and Donald Trump walked holding hands.


Also read: Modi govt now snubbing critics in other countries too. And US, UK won’t hold back for long


Diaspora politics

My research has shown diaspora movements are most effective when there is a single issue around which people can coalesce. Further, diaspora groups tend to be reactive — responding to, rather than shaping, the politics of their home country.

As a muscular, authoritarian Hindu vision has taken hold in India, progressive voices in the immigrant community have become disillusioned. The prevailing sentiment has been — If Indian voters continue to hand the BJP resounding majorities; what is there for us, who live outside India, to say? This explains why the protests at Modi’s visits to the US have been relatively muted.

During the visa ban process, activists could focus on a single, achievable target. No such clear goal exists today – nor is one likely to emerge. However, that case was significant not only because of its actual policy outcome, but because it was shaped by a moral debate within the Indian-American community. There is an urgent need to revive and publicise that debate, so that Indian-Americans can shape both their own identity and their relationship to India.

The Indian community in the US can provide CAA-NRC protesters in India with some of the moral oxygen they desperately need, as they confront a hostile and dangerous environment.


Also read: India’s student protests have broken image of national consensus on Modi’s policies


Voicing solidarity

These are some suggestions to Indian-Americans about what expressions of solidarity can look like.

First, if there are protest events planned in your locality, make every effort to attend. Perhaps the turnout will be sparse — no matter. High-decibel events like ‘Howdy, Modi!’ help legitimise the BJP regime, including its brutal actions. We may not be in a position to dwarf such events, but our voices can challenge the ideology that they are celebrating.

Second, the current spate of protests included students and faculty from institutions that are not known for their political activism, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management. If you are an alum of one of India’s preeminent educational institutions, your voice carries leverage. Contact your alumni association, and ask that they speak up in support of India’s democratic heritage. At the very least, students must be allowed to peacefully protest — without fear of state retribution under the guise of a colonial-era rule that was written to silence Indian nationalists.

Third, the crowded media space in India is astonishingly corrupt and biased. Take the time to identify the few independent voices that still exist, and support them with a subscription or, at least, regular ‘clicks’.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, reach out to fellow Indians in your community. Do you have friends or colleagues who are from one of the many minority groups that make up the rich tapestry of Indian society? Perhaps they are from Assam or Kashmir, states that have long and painful experiences with militarisation. Perhaps they are Muslim, Sikh, or Christian. Talk to them, and resist the easy anodyne of discussing American sporting events and the latest Netflix drop. Take the time to understand how different the life of a non-Hindu, non-mainland Indian is from those of us who were fortunate enough to be born as the ‘right’ sort of Indian. Now is the time for empathy and dialogue, without which a community – or nation – is rendered meaningless.


Also read: You can’t cancel Modi, RSS: Why US-style identity politics won’t help Indian liberals’ fight


In discussing the India of our childhood, I, and the many Indian-Americans I have spoken to, recall pride in belonging to a country that had, against the predictions of many Western analysts, proven itself to be a strong democracy. That identity, which has thrived because of India’s diversity, is in grave danger. While the protesters have shown us that that identity still lives; their path ahead is perilous. By extending moral support to them, Indian-Americans can signal that we, too, have a stake in the idea of India.

The author is a Professor of Political Science at Western Washington University, US. She has published and spoken extensively on diaspora issues, including the Trump administration’s immigration policy towards Indians. Her book, Indian Immigrant Women and Work: The American Experience, was published in 2016. Views are personal.

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15 Comments Share Your Views

15 COMMENTS

  1. An idiot is communal where ever he/she lives either in the us or india. I have never expected the majority of indian hindus to be this communal. Perhaps this current regime and their supporters brought out their true colors. Good for them to pride their saffron all around this time. A truely eye opener for everyone else in and around the country.

  2. An academic, who provides no concrete argument against the CAA, writes an article to ask the Indian diaspora to coalesce around opposing the CAA and the govt’s intentions / actions in the Indian press, which she herself, ironically, correctly identifies as “astonishingly corrupt and biased”.
    It seems to be a very low bar for publishing articles in the media, and sad that the editors think very low of the intelligence of their readers.

  3. This article is not written by an ABCD, which is a misnomer in itself. She is from India and with obvious roots in the leftist narratives that are so frequently published. Indian Americans are here in the US or any other country only because of the Left (varieties of Communists, Socialists and others like the Dravidian parties that has shown a proximity towards the Left ideologies). Since India’s independence, they have made sure there are no oppotunities for higher education, research, employment or business. Hence, people left India to destinations that offered opportunities in those areas. Why would they ever support the Left that has brought nothing but misery for them. Why would they support the left which always lies to the public? Why would Indian Americans support people like Biswas? It is abundantly clear that she has a strong bias against the majority population of India, the Hindus. She want to create more rift between Hindus and non Hindus. It ain’t happening. Christians and Muslims are more educated now to succumb to this kind of propaganda.

  4. The author seems well intentioned but a word of caution before anyone considers walking into a mine field. Consider educating oneself on the topic before engaging in a conversation with the above identified _groups_.

    Then consider the fact that there are several members of the diaspora whose silence is often misunderstood. Their framing reference revolves around the following: they have associates and friends from all ethnic and religious groups. However, while some groups are antagonized, they still have homes and relatives to go back to. Others don’t. They have lost lives, lost homes, and lost their identities.

    Be kind and empathize with those that have gotten on with their lives and made new homes in new lands.

    Overall, one questions, with benign skepticism, why the author wants to address certain members of the diaspora to coalesce around a particular cause, and not others.

  5. Nonsense article. Indian Americans overwhelmingly support Modi/Shah/BJP just like Indians in India. You want proof – tickets to Modi’s events in Texas and New York were sold out and people were on streets chanting “Modi Modi” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”!

  6. Indian-Americans give a lot.World’s largest remittance is to India. Unfortunate this finds no use for GDP growth. The money is pissed away in bahen ji ki shadi. Papa mam ka Ghar and buying gold to put it in the locker. None of this is of any thing of use to Indian Economy. Yes, Hum hain Hindustani.!!!

  7. and with their pockets. before bjp came to power and became the richest party by far (and by what looting did they manage that?), their main source of income was nri-donations. we can turn the tables and support other parties too.

  8. dont pretend to misunderstand. no one is instigating any one. and the protests have been peaceful – police have been violent. last night’s violence was clearly right-wing orchastrated (read about history of right-wing violence: kristalnacht in wikipedia for example).

  9. Here is Prime ABCDD American Born Confused DumbbDesi! You are one of those who tries to be More Gora than the Goras! A Prime example of an illiterate academic.
    Read that the law And base your article on facts. Do your research, the NAtional citizenship Register is no different from what the congress had proposed earlier. And one more thing, why dont you write more about the country you live in and how it treats its blacks and other minorities? But you wont because it won’t make you acceptable to the Goras

    • Arjun-ji, apparently it is YOU who knows nothing of our heritage – you use the word “gora: – read the novel by same name written by Tagore. Humanism is not patented by whites – we can also be humane! and servile behaviour is in the DNA of rss which was inspired by a foreign ideology. did you never see how modi prostrates himself in front of goras that matter to him?

      • Dear Labeo rohita, why did your parents name you after a fish? Perhaps they judged your character early on! I think you know very well on what it means to suck on a gora, which is what this author does.
        With regard to the RSS, their philosophy is more indigenous and also in reaction to gandhis and congress caliphate movement! So get your facts straight. And with regard to Modi, he doesn’t prostrate but hugs all foreign leaders but I guess that having eyes on each side of your head (like a fish) you couldn’t possibly see and comprehend that

        • RSS is the ideology of Aryan invaders from their brethren back in Eurasia, the same guys who destroyed the great India civilizations that existed before. Over last 2500 years, India has gone from having a very egalitarian society to today’s mess where top 20% upper caste people squeeze all money and power.

        • Arjun, you missed the opportunity to harp on the story of your arrow striking the eye of a fish reflected in water – typical lack of education among the bhakts. If you want to be a foot-soldier of Hindutva, at least read Hindu texts properly.

  10. Your article reeks of hypocrisy. You profess to uphold democratic values but have no qualms in supporting violent protests against a law passed by a democratically elected parliament. You claim that the Govt of India seeks to identify and target those who belong to religiously minorities, but have no shame in yourself urging Hindus in the US to instigate “Muslim, Sikh, or Christian” folks of Indian origin against the Indian government. Breathtaking.

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