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The centrality of Indian-Americans in US polls

The great hustle for the Indian American vote is on. Republicans and Democrats are competing hard. They know a shift could mean the difference between victory and defeat.Potential Indian American voters number around 2.5 million — less than 1% of the US population. But 1.3 million happen to live in eight battleground states where they can make a difference. Traditionally, their vote goes to the Democrats. In fact, the party has taken it for granted in the past.Not this time. Democrats are fielding their big guns to woo the vote because they can feel a churning and a possible shift towards Republicans. They don’t want to be complacent like the last time. Every vote will count and fought over hard, given the social turmoil, the Covid-19 pandemic, battles over mail-in ballots and a general sense of foreboding about the electoral process. President Donald Trump has done his bit to add to the uncertainty, saying he may or may not accept the verdict. Americans are seriously worried.This election will be different with a big D. Thus, the great effort to clinch the Indian American vote — emotional tugs, ads in Marathi, Gujarati and other languages, promises of more green cards and H-1B visas (despite Monday’s executive order preventing federal agencies from contracting or subcontracting foreign workers — mainly those on H-1B visas), highlighting past accomplishments and future promises — is a big mix. The battle is about the idea of America — inclusive or exclusive?But for Indian Americans, one issue may top all others — a measure of the candidate’s attitude towards India, especially as the country has emerged under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mere support in a generic sense, on which both parties get good marks, may not cut it this time.Things have gone granular, and how. India of today is at the heart of it all, sometimes uncomfortably so. Domestic political issues from Kashmir, abrogation of Article 370 to India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — the candidates’ stand are being intensely debated.The two candidates have markedly different points of view. While Trump has refrained from getting into the weeds, or comment on the good, bad and the ugly, his opponent and presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden has taken a stand — at least on his website — on the clampdown in Kashmir, CAA and NRC, calling them ‘inconsistent’ with India’s ‘long tradition of secularism’.That these lines are part of his ‘agenda for Muslim-American communities’ — and not a foreign policy critique —makes it sound like appeasement to many. It’s become a lightning rod, including for committed Biden supporters. They have demanded an agenda for Hindu Americans. But, so far, the party hierarchy hasn’t responded because those are treacherous waters.Biden’s strategists are trying to mobilise the Muslim American vote said to number a million because Trump has zero chance there. But, in the process, the Democratic Party may have complicated its equation with the Indian community.Let’s face it, the Hindu-Muslim divide is a fact of life since the last US election when the ‘Republican Hindu Coalition’ —a group founded by Shalabh Shalli Kumar, a Chicago-based industrialist, with the blessing of Republican leaders —aligned Trump with Modi’s India. ‘Howdy, Modi!’ and ‘Namaste Trump’ rallies sealed the deal. Shalli Kumar is currently negotiating to get back into the campaign.The Democrats, in general, have difficulty with Modi’s India, an India with a ‘resurgent Hindu majority’. Their struggles came to the fore in at least two Congressional hearings on Kashmir last year, which created ripples across the community. The two Muslim American Congresswomen — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — have got under the skin of even hard-core Indian American Democrats who may not be Modi fans but are India fans.Add to the mix the exertions of Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna, two of the four Indian American members of the House of Representatives, and you have a storm brewing in the Democratic Party backyard. The Democrats are trying to contain it, and the Republicans are trying to exploit it.According to an article in American Greatness by Trump supporter and co-chairman of the Trump Victory Indian American Finance Committee Al Mason, a survey conducted in ‘key battleground states, including Florida, Virginia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania’, 50% of potential Indian Americans are expected to ‘defect’ and vote for Trump. The voters felt Trump gave ‘respect’ to Modi and India. Mason claims his team talked to thousands of voters by phone and on WhatsApp.As a wise person once told me, ‘Republicans are better for India and Democrats are better for Indian Americans.’ Wish it were that simple.