Ukraine policy may cost Modi his US diaspora support


Indian Americans have been a strong and critical pillar of India’s strategic relationship with the United States, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s current stand on the Russian invasion of Ukraine seems to have pushed them farther than ever from New Delhi. A bipartisan group of Indian Americans will declare their estrangement from the Modi government on this issue at an event on Capitol Hill, home to the US Legislature, on June 22.

The event – ‘Indian Americans Against Genocide in Ukraine’ – is being organized to demonstrate that the diaspora is just as horrified and appalled by the invasion of Ukraine as the rest of the US, and not just the government and lawmakers but most lay Americans, barring some right-wing commentators such as Tucker Carlson.

Lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties are expected to speak, including the four Indian American members of the House of Representatives – Ami Bera (D-CA 7th District), Ro Khanna (D-CA 17th District), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7th District) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL 8th District). All four have been stridently critical of the Russian invasion and India’s refusal to condemn it.

Krishnamoorthi’s picture figures on a flyer distributed by the organizers, along with President Joe Biden’s.

The American President is not attending, but his picture, organizers say, will be an important signal that the White House has full knowledge of the event. According to the organizers, it will also likely dispel any misgivings that may have been felt there about Indian Americans, who are often seen as cheerleaders for New Delhi.

“What the Russian Army has been doing in Ukraine is downright genocide,” Shekhar Tiwari, a Republican operative who is also chairman of the American Hindu Coalition, had said in May in an interview to IANS. He is a close associate of several top BJP leaders. “Being a Hindu and a son of a Gandhian, it is hard for me to stomach,” Tiwari had said.

Similarly, Ramesh Kapur, a Democratic strategist who worked closely with Biden’s presidential campaign, had said that India’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion could be problematic should it need US assistance in a conflict with China. “If India gets into a situation with China, it can expect support from the US, but if the US thinks it cannot count on India they will have a problem.” This is a position put forth by US lawmakers as well.

Indian Americans have often aligned themselves closely with New Delhi’s policies, and have been activists on their behalf. They were an integral part of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government’s efforts to blunt the impact of the sanctions imposed by the Clinton administration for the Pokhran II nuclear tests in 1998 and played an outsize role in the ratification by the US Congress of the India-US civil nuclear deal, which ended India’s nuclear pariah status globally and, most importantly, ushered a new warmth in the bilateral relationship that continues to this day, endorsed and bolstered by successive governments, both Democratic and Republican.

The June 22 event is jointly hosted by the unequivocally Democratic US-India Security Council Inc. and Republican-leaning Hindu American Coalition. They are on the opposite sides of the aisle in US politics, but are joined at the hip in their support for the Modi government.

Prime Minister Modi has enjoyed unparalleled popularity thus far among Indian Americans, many of whom have either travelled to India to help his campaign or worked the phones from here to canvass voters in India. But his personal equity, unfortunately, may be insufficient to offset the blowback in America to his Ukraine policy.