In 2016, 80% of Indian-Americans voted for Donald Trump’s Democratic nominee, but the POTUS is making a huge attempt to turn more desi heads.
According to a report in Politco, for the first time ever, a Republican Presidential candidate is spending a huge among of money on ‘tailored ads for Indian American voters’.
Indian-Americans are seen as model immigrants/citizens and have a high rate of voting. The campaign believes that tax cuts and Trump’s stance on illegal immigration, along with his high-profile camaraderie with PM Modi, who hosted a huge reception for the POTUS and FLOTUS in Ahmedabad.
Despite Trump’s inability to pronounce the names of global icons like Swami Vivekananda or Sachin Tendulkar, the event was deemed a huge success by the Indian side, particularly since Trump refused to criticise the government over either the violence in Delhi or the lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir.
The ads are centred around Trump’s recent trips. One of the them features Donald and Melania Trump standing in front of the Taj Mahal and says: “Indian Americans are titans of business, masters of the arts and innovate technology like few others. Your contributions have strengthened our culture and economy. I will always fight for YOU!”
Another says ‘America LOVES India’, featuring a photo of Trump and Modi and states, perhaps ironically given India is facing one of its biggest slowdowns: “Our economies have never been better, and the United States is eager to build a strong partnership with India.”
A third just has a picture of Modi and lists Trumps’ educational policies, including tax breaks to support ‘private- and religious-school scholarships’
While Republicans have often struggled to attract Indian voters – one of the largest growing ethnic groups in the country – they believe Trump has a better chance thanks to his outreach efforts and his praise for Modi.
It comes in the backdrop of the Democratic hopefuls, particularly Bernie Sanders, taking hard positions on Kashmir and CAA protests and violence in India, which Democratic hopefuls have called ‘anti-Muslim mob violence’.
For the first time ever, India appears to be one of the central themes of the US Electoral campaign.
While Trump refused to criticise the violence that erupted in the national capital on the day he was there, Sanders wrote: “Over 200 million Muslims call India home. Widespread anti-Muslim mob violence has killed at least 27 and injured many more. Trump responds by saying, "That's up to India." This is a failure of leadership on human rights.”
This led to sharp reaction from a BJP functionary - BL Santosh the party's General Secretary - who threatened to 'interfere' in the US Elections. Santosh later deleted his tweet.
While there has been an attempt to paint the violence and protests as an ‘anti-Muslim pogrom’, there have been Hindu and Muslim casualties including an intelligence branch officer Ankit Sharma who had been stabbed over 400 times.
In recent years, there have been attempts by both the Trump and Modi administration to converge over interests, which at times has been hurt by Trump’s MAGA policies.
Interest in India is high in the States right now, and Washington Post and New York Times in particular spend a lot of resources covering India.
It is to be noted 2016 – despite the xenophobic rhetoric that marked the campaign – was exceptional for the Indian-American diaspora which had 1% of the US Congress for the first time.
It’s not weird actually to have Indian-Americans in the US who overwhelmingly vote Democratic but back PM Modi back home.
As The Hindu’s Editor Varghese George noted at Zee JLF 2020: “The Indian-American has been split into pro-Hindutva and anti-Hindutva which is equally vocal. There is a thing to be noted that it’s largely upper-caste, middle class Indians who qualify with a caste system. They are not really there. They haven’t left India. They carry a lot of baggage from India. We have contradictory politics. You have the same people who are vocal about minority rights in the US but are equally supportive of authoritarianism back home.”
A curious case of this bipolarity is the popularity of Naveen ‘Bobby’ Jindal, a 2016 Republican hopeful who got support from both Democrats and Republicans when he ran for office, irrespective of his conservative positions on gun control, rape, incest and abortion.
While one assumed that Indian-Americans would pick a Democrat, Jindal’s rise showed that Indian-Americans could put personal politics aside to vote for one of their own.
For New Delhi’s part, India appears to have firmly thrown its hat into the ring in support of Donald Trump, perhaps betting that the Democratic candidate would act tough on several issues.
While New Delhi won't be too happy with a BJP members threatening to 'interfere' with the US election, the received wisdom in New Delhi appears to be in favour of a 2nd Trump term at the White House.
Despite Trump’s abrasive nature, the belief in both New Delhi and Washington amongst the policy wonks has been that India has been better treated than most other traditional US allies.
There’s also likelier to be far less attention from a Trump administration on issues like the CAA protests or the lockdown on Jammu and Kashmir, which might not be the same case with a Democrat in the White House.