Indian-American vote push spans Kashmir to Islamophobia


Indian Americans involved in the US presidential election 2020, both Democrat and Republican supporters, say it has been a hard-fought campaign.

For the November 3 general election, both the parties have launched grassroots outreach specifically for Indian Americans.

And In Indian-American social media groups it’s almost as if the election is happening in India and not in the United States — it’s that passionate.

Badri Singh, co-founder of the conservative US Impact, based in Texas with chapters in 29 states, ruled out the survey showing 72 percent of registered Indian-American voters supported Joe Biden for President compared to 22 percent for Donald Trump.

He defended and welcomed Trump’s stand on India’s abrogation of special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, immigration issues including the recent wage hike of H-1B visa holders, and declared that 2020 would see the rise of Republican votes in California.

Deepa Sharma, communications director at South Asians for Biden, said there was robust support for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Our community has been donating for years and we are known for that,” Sharma told indica News. “So, we have organized a grassroots campaign and are asking people to vote — not asking for money….

This election we see people all across the country are united and we are recognized as a powerful and pivotal voting bloc. So, this time they want not just our money… it’s so powerful.”

Was the Biden-Harris campaign trying to counter those who feel Harris is not connected to the Indian-American community?

This is a challenging election cycle and there is a lot of misinformation on WhatsApp messages and Facebook, distorting Joe Biden’s records,” Sharma said.

We are seeing that and trying to address it. Misinformation on social media does play a role in lower voter turnout,” she said.

And in our community, we have seen that has happened and so now this time we are armed with this knowledge,” said Sharma. “It’s about addressing lies with facts…. I think she [Kamala Harris] is proud of both parts of her heritage and she is strongly influenced by her Indian heritage.”

Anu Natarajan, former mayor of Fremont, California, and advisory board member at Biden National Council, said the nomination of Harris definitely electrified the campaign.

Absolutely! It is so exciting to see someone we can all relate with, someone who was so comfortable using a Tamil word in her acceptance speech, can ascend to the top and provide visibility,” Natarajan told indica News.

Our engagement is with Democrats to make sure they do not take anything for granted and vote in high numbers, and to target and reach out to the independents,” she said.

Amar Shergill, the first South Asian American to lead the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, said Trump had failed to connect.

There was some concern in the Democratic Party that Trump might have made inroads with Indian Americans by holding rallies with Prime Minister Modi but the data now shows quite clearly that Trump has failed to connect with South Asians,” Shergill told indica News.

“With the emergence of Senator Kamala Harris as the first South Asian on the presidential ticket, the future is bright for desi Democrats,” Shergill said. “The only question remaining to be answered is how effective the South Asian community will be in turning out our voters.”

Shergill added: “It is troubling that some organizations like the Hindu American Foundation’s PAC were looking to endorse Trump and, when he rejected them, they have gone silent.”

According to the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey, the Indian-American population grew by nearly 150 percent between 2000 and 2018, making it the second-largest immigrant group in America.

The survey said that 70 percent of the naturalized citizens who have lived in the US between 11 and 25 years are most likely to support Biden, whereas most of the Trump supporters have lived in the United States for less than a decade.

However, Badri Singh said that around 70 percent of the members are between 30 to 50 years of age and about 20 percent seniors and 10 percent youth.

It’s a reality the youth factor is missing and they are more engaged in socialism at college… compared to US-India issues. Therefore we are having a problem, which we will try to address,” Singh said.

Asked if Trump was anti-immigrant, Khushboo ‘Kush’ Rawlley, co-founder of the US Impact PAC, who serves on the 2020 Trump Advisory Council, told indica News: “We came to this country because of democracy and it’s safe. We did not choose any other country like China, Russia. We came to the USA because it is a land of opportunity and a land of free speech, which Trump promotes… Now that we are living here, we want America to be secure and keeps on giving us an opportunity.”

Trump is promoting merit-based immigration,” said Kush.

Both Kush and Singh believe that Indian Americans who are supporting Trump are those who are concerned about India.

Singh pointed to the Biden-Harris ticket’s approach to the Kashmir issue.

It doesn’t matter you are a Democrat or Republican…. you won’t like it if a finger raises against your motherland,” said Singh.

This correspondent asked Dr Anjali Arondekar, director, Center for South Asian Studies, University of California Santa Cruz, about her thoughts on the rise of the grassroots campaigns and both sides using a targeted and focused campaign based on religion and language.

A strategy that respects the complexities of religious affiliations and language diversity within the South Asian diaspora could definitely be a positive,” Arondekar told indica News.

Where we run into trouble is when that strategy embraces the regressive colonial mantra of divide and rule, rather than the more progressive expand and unify,” she added.

She said that the Biden-Harris campaign cannot afford to pander to Islamophobia or the pressure of Hindutva groups as they reach out to South Asians, especially Indian Americans. With the Trump campaign, she said, such a polarizing strategy is to be expected.

Trump and his surrogates rely on race-baiting and discrimination to frighten people into voting for them,” she said.

Kamala Harris, in particular, needs to do more to combat the rise of Hindutva and speak more to its continuities with anti-black violence in the US,” she aded.

Many of us are still hopeful that she will not abandon her early support of Kashmiri and Dalit/Bahujan rights when she becomes Vice President. In fact, we will push hard to make sure she lives up to the promises she made.”