US presidential election drives deep divisions among Indian-Americans

Reflection of Indian domestic politics is clearly visible in the current elections. Hindu-Muslim divide is an issue with the Indian-American constituency as Trump is being perceived more pro-Hindu and inimical to Muslims while Biden and Harris, because of their critical stand on abrogation of Article 370 and imprisoning of Kashmiri leaders, are being seen as pro-Muslims.   

Dr Satish Misra

Coming US presidential election on November 3 has driven deep wedge among 1.4 million Indian-American electorate dividing them between the ruling Republican Party of Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden as both are desperately trying to woo them as they could prove to be kingmakers.

With Indian-American voters in sight, Biden finally chose Senator from California Kamala Devi Harris- whose Indian connection from Tamil Nadu born mother Shyamla Gopalan, were sure to bring definite electoral advantage.  Every vote matters in this election as Biden is pitted against one of the most street-smart American President Trump who is not shy of using any means for his victory.

Trump’s re-election campaign has already launched new coalitions as it seeks to boost its appeal to Indian-Americans and other South Asian communities ahead of the November 3 election. Added to it is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi factor among Indian-American voters who have strong Gujarat connections. Modi has already indirectly campaigned for Trump both in the US as well as in February this year when Donald Trump came to India on an official visit.

Indian-American electorate is getting divided on many grounds. While young voters from the community are still with the Democratic Patty as they are facing problems because of Trump’s anti-migrant policies since his coming to power, old generation voters who are more conservatives are taking exception to criticism of Modi and his policies as an interference in India’s internal matters and therefore are moving to support the Republican Party.

Reflection of Indian domestic politics is clearly visible in the current elections. Hindu-Muslim divide is an issue with the Indian-American constituency as Trump is being perceived more pro-Hindu and inimical to Muslims while Biden and Harris, because of their critical stand on abrogation of Article 370 and imprisoning of Kashmiri leaders, are being seen as pro-Muslims.

Approximately 1.4 million Indian-Americans are expected to vote in the November 3 election, including nearly 200,000 in Pennsylvania and 125,000 in Michigan, both must-win hard-fought states.

While traditionally, Indian-Americans have overwhelmingly been voting for the Democratic Party candidates but in the ongoing elections there are indications of a subterranean shift towards Trump whom a section of Indians settled in the US consider pro-India. These section of Indian-American voters are the strong supporters of the RSS-BJP family and have been campaigning for Modi.

With this in mind, the Republican party have decided to micro manage Indian-American community by forming different coalitions – “Indian Voices for Trump,” “Hindu Voices for Trump,” “Sikhs for Trump” and “Muslim Voices for Trump”. These groups will engage community members nationwide to fight against Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s socialist agenda and ensure prosperity and security for four more years.

Earlier this week, Joe Biden’s decision to pick Kamala Harris, 55, as his running mate to woo the Black voters and the influential Indian community has created dilemmas for the Indian-American community.

“These four campaign coalitions represent groups that strongly support the values of President Trump and the Republican Party: freedom, democracy, and the ‘American Dream’,” informed Ashley Hayek, Trump 2020 Director of Coalitions.

“As Joe Biden promises to impose high taxes, undermine family values, and make our streets less safe, we stand with President Trump and his mission to Make America Great Again,” Hayek said spreading disinformation about Trump rivals.

“Indian-Americans are thriving under President Trump’s commitment to honor the comprehensive global strategic partnership with India, which includes the preservation of democracy, freedom, law and order and the advancement of quality education and economic empowerment,” the campaign said.

“The choice for president is clear for Indian-American voters: four more years of a Trump Presidency will further build on our US-India partnership and secure a prosperous future for all Indian-American families,” it added.

Among other members of the advisory board include Hemant Bhatt, Shridhar Chityala, Rick Desai, David Dhillon, Danny Gaekwad, Danielle D’Souza Gill, Suhail Khan, Prem Parameswaran, Sunil Puri, Maya Puri, Khushboo Rawlley, Dr Sampat Shivangi, Saroj Singh and Dr Vanila Singh.

Advisory Board Co-chairs and members of the Hindu Voice for Donald Trump have not been announced yet. Its website shows Trump celebrating Diwali in the White House.

“Hindus for Trump honor contributions by millions of Americans of Hindu faith,” the campaign said.

“The inclusive economy, commitment to building up US-Indian relations, and fierce support for religious liberties for all is unmatched. Re-electing President Trump will reduce obstacles to religious freedoms for Hindus in America,” the campaign said on its website.

“Sikh Americans for Trump recognizes the selfless service of Sikh Americans in building up their communities. Four more years of President Trump means four more years of religious freedoms and economic prosperity for Sikhs in America,” it said.

The website carries a picture of Union Civil Aviation Minister and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, presenting a bust of Mahatma Gandhi to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during their visit to India in February.

‘Muslim Voices for Trump’ will energize and mobilize the Muslim community in re-electing Trump by sharing the many successes of his Administration, the campaign said.

“Re-electing President Trump will ensure the protection of religious liberties, economic prosperity, and educational opportunities for Muslims in America,” it said.

Division among the Indian-American community is also driven from the fact that Indian community has become politically ambitious and is determined to claim its stake in the US system. Since, the majority of the community used to be with the Democratic Party, some ambitious elements decided to switch their loyalty to the Republican Party in general and Trump in particular.

The Democratic Party establishment has noted the shift with due concern and has been taking suitable steps to arrest the alienation of the Indian voters. More outreach is being planned with emphasis on grass-root campaigning and more target advertising.

Biden addressed the community on August 15- India’s Independence Day where the Democratic party’s presidential candidate’s advisors, who in case of victory are expected to hold important positions in the Administration, were also present so that a personal touch could be given to the meeting. It proved to be one of the biggest and most visible celebrations of any one country by a presidential candidate. Biden removed all doubts as he pitched for a strong India-US relationship if he and Harris win reminding Indian-American electorate of his role in epoch making India-US Nuclear deal

Biden-Harris duo promised that the Democratic president-ship would have zero tolerance approach towards “terrorism in South Asia, cross border or otherwise” which was pointer towards Pakistan. The future Biden administration would strive “with India to support a rule-based and stable Indo-Pacific region in which no country including, is able to threaten its neighbors with impunity”.

Last month, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez addressed a virtual gathering of 800 Indian Americans with Richard Verma, a former US Ambassador to India in Obama Administration, to impress upon the Indian voters their significance in the crucial battleground states. Over 1.4 million Indian-American voters reside in nine battleground states including Wisconsin and Florida,

Trump-Penn versus Biden-Harris contest is going to be very a close battle where every vote would prove to be crucial, Indian-American voters are going to get lot of attention in coming months. Now they have to decided whether they vote for Trump who abrogated preferential trade agreement with India costing Indo-US bilateral trade heavily or for Biden who has shown his preference by picking up Kamala Harris as his running mate.

(Dr Misra is an author, researcher and senior journalist)

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