With the US Presidential Elections scheduled to happen in just over a month, an important voter pool is emerging into the limelight for both contesting parties. The Indian American diaspora, one of the largest Asian American populations and a large pool of potential voters, currently stands at a crossroads. They face a choice that has been brought about by their unique connection to two men: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump.
Both have a lot in common, and both have definitely tried to capitalise on that. Trump and Modi have held rallies in each other’s country, which has influenced voters in both countries and drawn out massive crowds. An estimated 50,000 Indians gathered in Houston in September 2019 to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Howdy Modi” rally, reportedly the largest-ever gathering of a foreign political leader in the USA. Trump received the gift of a crowd over twice as large as that at Modi’s Namaste Trump rally in Gujarat in February 2020.
Indian American voters have historically tended to vote for the Democratic Party: as recently as the 2016 elections, a large majority voted for Hillary Clinton. While that may remain true for the younger voters, the older generation seems to be leaning more to the right, as events in the homeland have led to majoritarian and communal support for the authoritarian PM Modi. Al Mason, who works with the Trump Victory Indian American Finance Committee, claimed to have conducted an analysis of voter sentiments in the states of Michigan, Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. According to him, a “mass exodus” can be expected: hundreds of thousands of Indian American potential voters switching sides to favour Trump.
The worsening and brutal situation in Kashmir, increasingly polarised religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as increase in lynchings against Dalits and other oppressed castes is becoming an important driving force for Indian diaspora in deciding who to vote for. Trump’s Islamophobic and anti-China sentiments may be striking a cord with the Indian American diaspora, since most of them are uppercaste, affluent Hindus— mirroring the political majority in India. Additionally, at least some Indian Americans are surely misconstruing Democrats’ criticism of Modi’s policies as a criticism of India— especially when it comes from Indian American members of the House of Representatives— leading them to feel defensive towards both.
Indian American Trump supporters are rallying strongly behind him, with organisations such as The Texas India Forum and Hindus4Trump claim to possess a large pool of funds and members geared towards making Trump 2020 a reality.
On the other hand, concerns regarding visas and green cards seem to be diminishing among the Indian diaspora already settled in America, despite the mounting pressure from Trump’s largely white and Christian base to keep cracking down on immigration. Indian origin supporters of Trump, in India as well as the USA, seem convinced that the visa reforms will eventually work out in their favour. It isn’t hard to see that given the massive amount of support Trump receives from (and provides to) white supremacists, it would actually be in the best interests of Indian Americans to not vote for him.
Biden’s recent decision to choose Kamala Harris as his running mate for Vice President could prove to be an important aspect for Indian American voters. Harris is of South Indian ancestry from her mother’s side, and being one of the first South Asian women to be on the ticket for a position of major power has the potential to influence voters who want to see more representation on the political stage. You can read more in our deep dive on Kamala Harris, including her views and policies regarding India, here at Kamala Harris: A Look At Joe Biden’s Running Mate.
In response to Harris becoming running mate and the praise it received from Indians, Trump released a commercial showing him and Modi together, and applauding the support Trump receives from Indian Americans. Democrats are also ramping up their efforts and releasing targeted advertisements in multiple languages. Biden and his senior advisors addressed the community on August 15, Indian Independence Day; a month before that the Democratic National Committee Chairman addressed a virtual gathering of 800 Indian American prospective voters along with a former ambassador to India.
While there are quite a few who support one but denounce the other, the similarities between Modi and Trump lead to a general trend of supporting one invariably leading to support for the other, and vice-versa. Both Democrats and Republicans recognise the precarious position that Indians all over the world, including in the United States, are in right now; opinions are shifting and solidifying, and performance of this particular demographic in the upcoming election could very well surprise the community itself.