New Delhi, Feb 4 (IANS) A robust economy, safety and security of citizens, fixing the southern border crisis, and thriving relations with India are some of the demands put forth by the nearly four-million-strong Indian-American community as the US rolls up its sleeves for Ballot 2024.
Surprising many political voters, the community emerged as the most coveted bloc in the 2020 election with a record 71 per cent rate of voting among Asian Americans and ensuring President Joe Biden’s victory.
At least 10 Indian-Americans, mostly Democrats, won local and state-level elections held in several parts of the country last year, reflecting the growing political prowess of the ethnic community.
For the first time in the history of the country, two Indian-American candidates — Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy — locked horns on the Republican presidential debate stage, giving a tough fight to former president and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
Yet, as aptly put by a Carnegie Endowment study, despite the rising political profile of Indian Americans, their political attitudes are woefully under-studied.
“Many Indian-Americans support fundraisers and personal affiliations to advance their concerns, yet, when the contestants get elected and take office, most promises fall on the sidelines, especially issues affecting the Indian American community,” Nilima Madan, Vice President of The Association of Indians In America, told IANS.
President Joe Biden’s major fundraisers included Indian-Americans, who helped raise at least $100,000 for his campaign in 2020.
Topping the list of 800 major donors were community leaders like Swadesh Chatterjee, Ramesh Kapoor, Shekar N. Narasimhan, R. Rangaswami, Ajay Jain Bhutoria, Frank Islam, Neil Makhija and Bela Bajaria.
“What hits an American citizen is primarily the economy, their pride and disappointment, and how their life will be run by Republicans or Democrats,” Madan said.
Comprising nearly 1 per cent of all registered voters in the US and representing 16 per cent of Asian-American voters, Indian-Americans are considered to be key players in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Nevada.
“In general, Indian-American voters, while supporting candidates for various positions, don’t articulate their concerns, they don’t candidly put their demands for the consideration of political representatives,” Ashok Vyas, a programme director with New Jersey-based ITV Gold channel, told IANS.
“But for some time, general Indian-American voters are taking a lot of interest in Indian affairs and there is increased sensitivity towards Bharat,” he said, adding that the electorate wants a fair portrayal of Indian culture and dharma for students.
In addition to wanting a “stronger government”, the immediate concern of Indian-American voters, according to Vyas, is stability, safety, and law and order.
While the economy and healthcare are largely seen to influence the vote choice of Indian Americans, this time the community also wants the US to develop robust relations with India.
Parveen Chopra, founder of New York-based spirituality website, ALotusInTheMud.com, was at a fundraiser in Hicksville where prominent Indian-Americans mentioned better India-US relations and safety as their top concerns, in addition to “hordes of migrants poring through the southern border”.
The crisis at the southern border has become a sore point in the 2024 US Presidential elections with a spike in the number of migrants entering the country through its Mexico border in recent years.
The US Customs and Border Protection released more than 2.3 million migrants into the country at the southern border under the Biden administration, allowing in the vast majority of migrant families and some adult groups, according to a recent Department of Homeland Security report.
An NYT report mentioned that there are now around 11 million undocumented immigrants inside the US — three times the number that lived here in 1990 — straining the resources of cities like Denver, New York, and Chicago.
“One Democrat who even ran unsuccessfully for a county legislative seat said he is ready to vote Donald Trump this time, unhappy with open borders and migrant tent cities under Joe Biden,” Chopra, former editor of New York-based daily, The South Asian Times, told IANS.
Vyas said that the chances of Trump returning as president cannot be ruled out.
“Donald Trump talked about building a wall and putting America first. These ideas are making him a popular choice. Will we have Trump as President again? This can’t be ruled out,” he said.
While Indian Americans have largely sided with the Democrats, Madan told IANS that it is more about choosing a “reliable American administration”.
“Democrats or Republicans, no one votes for four years of unpredictability but chooses a reliable American administration.”
While there was an initial wave of excitement among the community with the entry of Ramaswamy and Haley in the presidential race, Madan said that an individual’s race or ethnicity itself is not a defining factor.
“Every election becomes another chance to participate and hope for a favorable outcome amid political polarisation. Although their diverse attitudes and attributes are dividing Indian American voters for the 2024 US Presidential elections, an individual’s race or ethnicity itself is not a defining factor,” Madan told IANS.
Haley, who continues to be in the Republican presidential race, launched her campaign by calling herself a daughter of immigrants but has not garnered much support from the community.
“About Nikki Haley, Indians don’t consider her a viable candidate — her being of Indian origin is not much in their equation,” Chopra told IANS on being asked about the former South Carolina governor’s chances against Trump.
Vyas said that “at this point, she doesn’t seem to be holding any ground against former president Trump”.
According to a Monmouth University-Washington Post poll released this week, Haley is trailing Trump by 26 points in her home state of South Carolina.
With the former president winning the two primary contests held so far, the 2024 presidential campaign appears to be inexorably heading towards a Trump-Biden rematch, with most voters wishing there were better candidates in the race.
Close to 74 per cent of Indian-American voters are thought to have backed Biden in 2020, according to a 2022 survey by AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) data, compared to just 15 per cent supporting Trump.
Political experts believe that in 2024, much of those 74 per cent of the votes — comprising businessmen, corporate or tech professionals — are more likely to swing to the right as they favor lower tax rates.
The Affirmative Action at Harvard, anti-caste legislation in California, Khalistan meace, growing attacks on Hindu temples, and fallout of the Israel-Hamas conflict on college campuses do not paint a pretty picture for the Hindus and other minorities.
Says Madan, “How all turns out is fluid until all know who is next, yet hopes for the best prevail”.