Of the 1.8 million Indian Americans eligible voters, it is estimated that 1.3 million live in eight key states which could decide the next President of the United States.
Sizeable Indian American voters live in four of the eight key states, these being Michigan (125,000), Pennsylvania (156,000), Florida (193,000) and Wisconsin (37,000). These states formed the blue wall that crumbled in 2016: Democrat hopeful Hillary Clinton lost them by a combined total of fewer than 80,000 votes which was 0.06% of the 137 million votes cast. Donald Trump went on to become US President.
This time round, Republicans and Democrats are both working overtime to woo the Indian voters. Both however, come with their own baggage.
On the one hand, President Trump is portraying himself as the true friend of India, with ads aimed at the Indian community showcasing his close relationship with Indian PM Modi. The two mammoth rallies of Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump feature prominently in his courtship of the community. A widely publicised naturalisation ceremony including a sari-clad woman also purported to cement his credentials within America’s Indian community. Trump may also have chosen deliberately to keep very quiet on India’s domestic issues.
And yet Indian Americans must surely be uncomfortable with Trump’s growing white nationalist base. His open attacks on foreigners taking away American jobs, curbs on H-1B visas and overall restrictions on immigration, have not gone down well with the Indian community.
On the other hand, the Democrats also come with their plusses and minuses. Joe Biden’s choice of part-Indian Kamala Harris has curried favour with the Indian community (and in all probability caused the Trump camp to ramp up their India message in their marketing.) Harris often talks about how her views were shaped by her grandfather in Chennai in her childhood days. The Democrats are at pain to point out the two visits by Barack Obama to India, including one as the chief guest for the Republic Day parade and also of his support for India to get a permanent seat at the Un Security Council. Biden’s support for an Indo-US civil nuclear deal is also counted in his favour.
Over the past year however, the Democrats have taken India to task on Modi’s Kashmir policy on Kashmir and the Hindutva agenda. Many Indian Americans were also incensed by Biden when in an attempt to woo the Muslim American voters, he also criticised India’s Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.
With all this in the mix, the Indian American vote bank lies split along identity lines. There are those who favour the strong rise of Hinduism in India and what it offers, yet progressive Indian-American activists have long criticized the Hindu nationalist discourse for its caste bias.
The challenge for both major parties will be to strike the balance between what they have said and done, to what they promise to do, should they come into power. And as for the Indian American voter, well, they’d better get used to getting special treatment – pundits are calling the 2024 US Presidential race to be between Republican Nikki Haley and Democrat Kamala Harris.
That could be an interesting one.