Though Joe Biden still holds lead over Trump among Indian-American voters, a survey has shown that Donald Trump is making inroads into the Indian-American vote bank. Sharp criticism of India’s Kashmir policies by Democrats served as a wake-up call for many, Republican Indian-Americans say.
The aggressive stand of some Democrats on the Kashmir issue during last year’s Congressional hearings is the main reason behind the shift in Indian-American vote towards Republicans.
Republican Indian-Americans say the sharp criticism of India’s Kashmir policies by Democratic Party members on Capitol Hill served as “a wake-up call” for many in the community. It made Indian-Americans reflect on “who was India’s friend and who wasn’t.”
That the Indian-American vote has shifted by 12 per cent for President Donald Trump compared to 2016 was confirmed by a survey released by Prof. Karthick Ramakrishnan, who has tracked Asian American voters over time. The Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders or AAPI Data survey is the only scientific survey to measure sentiment.
The fact that Trump “stood by” Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Kashmir issue and participated in the “Howdy, Modi” and “Namaste Trump” rallies are seen as proof of his friendship, said a Republican activist. “These are real facts,” he said.
Add to that the flurry of meetings between the two governments either already concluded or planned before the November 3 vote and it would appear the two countries are in sync against the background of Chinese incursions into India. New agreements are expected to be signed.
AAPI SURVEY FINDINGS: SLIPPAGE CLEAR
The latest AAPI survey showed Democratic candidate Joe Biden with 65 per cent support among Indian-Americans, a noticeable drop from 77 per cent support for Hillary Clinton in 2016 while Trump had 28 per cent support, a climb up from 16 per cent in the last election. Overall the community still heavily favours the Democratic Party but the slippage is clear.
The Democrats are concerned and the Republicans are elated because the shift could prove significant in battleground states. What’s interesting is the shift is happening despite voters “reporting little or no outreach from either political party,” according to the survey.
Clearly some issues are resonating within the community and one of them is Trump’s hands-off attitude on Kashmir and the Democrats’ vocal criticism of Modi’s Kashmir policies, especially their focus on human rights issues.
“Now the Democrats are confirming what we have been saying all along. President Trump’s constant support for India all along and now his stand against China are big factors,” said a Republican Indian-American fundraiser.
The real turning point was two hearings one by Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat and chair of the House Subcommittee on Asia, on October 22 and the other by the quasi government bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. At both events, the deck was stacked with known India critics who sharply criticised the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir and the detention of political leaders.
Democrats unleashed a storm of questions, not allowing the sole participant from India journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh even to speak. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was especially belligerent in her attacks, accusing Modi of pursuing a “majoritarian” Hindu agenda. Singh’s testimony was overshadowed.
Impartial observers felt the questioning was to satisfy certain Ismalist organisations in the US. It was left to two senior State Department officials to bring a semblance of balance in the hearing.
The Human Rights Commission held its hearing without public notice, raising questions about the real intention behind the exercise. Its panel was composed of India critics.
“Indian-Americans should analyse the history carefully and the events of the last two years,” said Raj Bhayani, a New York-based Republican. He is the driver behind “Patriot Americans,” a group of Indian American Republicans working in battleground states to encourage the vote for Trump.
Within days of the hearings, messages were flying on WhatsApp groups about the tone and attitude of Democratic members of the House of Representatives. They felt the sole panelist who wanted to raise Pakistan’s role in terrorism and the plight of Kashmiri pundits was treated shabbily. Congressman Sherman, the subcommittee chairman, didn’t intervene to impose order.
‘MORE SHIFTING TO TRUMP’
The Republican claims about even more votes shifting to Trump are not without merit. Many Indian-Americans who voted for Clinton in 2016 say they will vote for Trump this time, according to three Republican activists working in battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Georgia.
Neil Patel, an Ohio-based Republican Indian-American who runs a Super Pac called “Kitchen Cabinet,” said a lot of his “good friends had voted for Hillary in 2016 but this time they are voting Trump.” Besides Trump’s support of Modi, he said Indian-Americans are concerned about the US becoming a “socialist country,” something the president says will happen if Biden becomes president.
“Biden said he would allow 125,000 refugees into the US and lift the ban on Muslim countries. A lot of people oppose that,” Patel said.
A statement from Biden at a rally for Muslims saying he wished “we taught more in our schools about the Islamic faith” also went like lighting through Hindu-Americans who added it to the list of alleged pro-Islamic utterances by Democrats. It quickly became a WhatsApp message on Biden imposing Sharia, no less.
Democrats stoutly deny Biden has any such plans but in the current political climate, imagining the worst of the other candidate is common and the context of the comments is often forgotten.
But the Dems are worried about the shift to Trump. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, said the latest survey was indeed a cause for concern and his party needed to do “more outreach” to Indian-Americans. Their vote cannot be taken for granted, he said after the survey findings were revealed.
Add to this the energised agenda of the Trump administration with India a flurry of meetings is planned before the November 3 vote. The foreign and defence ministers of India and the US will meet soon for the next edition of the 2 plus 2 dialogue in New Delhi.
They are expected to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA, which will give India access to geo-spatial intelligence about various countries, including Pakistan. BECA is the last of the four “foundational agreements” to increase interoperability, sharing of intelligence and establishing secure communication lines between the two military establishments.
The Trump team is consolidating certain key elements of the strategic partnership with India before the presidential election and put more markers on the ground for its Indo-Pacific strategy. And the Modi government faced with a no-win situation with China on the border appears to be more willing.
A meeting of the Quad foreign ministers from India, the US, Australia and Japan, is also expected in the next few weeks to discuss every member’s continuing troubles with China.