Both Democrat and Republican candidates are courting Indian American constituents not just because this second largest immigrant group in the US is growing wealthier, with median household incomes at $107,000, but also because Indian Americans are successfully permeating the establishment in industry, academia, and other fields, and actively engaging in politics to make their voices heard.
As more Indian Americans from across the political spectrum participate in US politics to advocate for their community’s interests, several political action groups have been formed to promote issues that matter to their members, among them, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), the United States India Political Action Committee, and the Republican Hindu Coalition.
A 2018 survey confirms that South Asian communities are steadily developing a civic and political network of ‘voters, donors, elected officials, appointees and public policy advocates’, that is driving engagement in the political process. The AAPI reports that as more individuals from Asian American communities run for office (over 80 in 2018), “they engage their network of extended family and friends to become involved.”
This infrastructure is pivotal in driving voter registration and voter engagement in primary and special elections. Indian Americans, one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, register and vote at high rates, a fact not lost on political contenders trying to claim a portion of the vote share in the upcoming elections.
In early September, Sen. Kamala Harris used a video tweet to launch her “South Asians For The People” initiative, to muster support from Indian Americans for her election campaign. She expressed pride in her South Asian heritage and in her grandfather, a freedom fighter who believed that, “all people should be treated equally – regardless of the circumstances of their birth”.
Maya Humes, a spokesperson for the Harris campaign told India Currents that several Indian American volunteers had revealed “how much Kamala’s run for president means to their community.” Harris’ campaign has set up a hub on its website to bring South Asian supporters across the country together to help them “get to know each other, host events, and spread the word about Harris’ plans to enact bold change within their communities.”
In another event on September 28, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of VP Joe Biden, sought support for her husband’s presidential bid at a fundraiser in Fremont, CA, hosted by tech executive, community leader, and philanthropist Ajay Bhutoria and his wife Vinita Bhutoria.
Dr. Biden shared her thoughts about stories that “remind us that our differences are precious and that our similarities infinite— that our community, our country, is capable of beautiful and powerful things.”
Although Indian Americans have traditionally voted Democrat, (over 62% in an AAPI poll), President Trump has sought and received support from a cohort of Indian American community leaders.
Before the 2016 elections, a video ad sponsored by Chicago-based billionaire Shalabh Kumar, featured then candidate Trump exhorting Indian Americans to vote for him, “Ab ki baar Trump sarkar”. That refrain was repeated at the recent Howdy Modi event at Houston’s NRG stadium in September, which was attended by President Trump.
Adi Sathi, Chief of Staff at the Young Republican National Federation explained that many Indian American business leaders support President Trump’s commitment to tax reform and economic deregulation.
At the Howdy Modi event, Trump, who has strategically appointed at least 22 Indian Americans to important government jobs, solicited Indian American support for his re-election bid by highlighting his 2017 tax cuts and business friendly agenda, “I want you to know my administration is fighting for you each and every day.”
In his speech Trump lauded his Indian American audience saying, “You enrich our culture. You uphold our values. You uplift our communities. You are proud to be Americans and we are truly proud to have you as Americans.”
With sentiments like these and the 2020 election in their sights, the quest by presidential candidates for Indian American support symbolizes the potential power and remarkable political influence of this ethnic community in the next US election.
Image source: biden-viks-photography-1835.jpg
Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.