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Of the American election down the decades, the one scheduled on November 3 has, perhaps, the strongest India connections. Gone are the days when Indian Americans figured as job-snatchers. This is also the one that is interesting Indians in India and elsewhere, not to speak of the South Asian neighbourhood, where burgeoning Indo-US strategic ties have come to matter much. Beyond the toxicity prevailing in a Corona-infected campaign and the impact that the win and loss are expected to have globally must keep us glued.

Kalyani Shankar, veteran journalist and author and our America Watcher, has a quick, short take on whether the Indian Americans as traditional voters will stick to the Democratic Party – with five Joe Biden blood relations living in Mumbai and half-Indian Kamala Harris as his running mate, or be influenced by incumbent President Donald Trump’s “Howdy Modi” and “Namaste Trump” shows.

Will the Indian Americans favour the incumbent, President Donald Trump or his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the United States presidential elections scheduled for November 3?

The Indian American community occupies a unique place in America’s politics, as hardworking immigrants who represent the ‘American dream.’ They are the second-largest immigrant group. This bloc has traditionally supported the Democratic Party in the past and is projected to do the same even in the 2020 elections. Of the 4.16 million people living in the US (half of them being US citizens) 1.9 million citizens are eligible voters in the upcoming polls.  

Both the main parties – the Democrats and the Republicans -have reached out to the Indian American community.  Indian immigrants are among the wealthiest and most educated immigrant group in the US. Over 10.6 million Americans have already cast their votes with Democrats holding a strong early lead according to a recent CNBC report. 

 So far, the poll surveys go in favour of Biden. The latest survey of the 2020 Indian American Attitude (IAAS) reveals an overwhelming majority of 72 per cent of the Indian Americans propose to vote for Biden and only 22 per cent might vote for Trump.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with the analytics firm YouGov had conducted the survey. “Indian-Americans continue to be strongly attached to the Democratic Party, with little indication of a shift toward the Republican Party,” the widely publicized report says pointing out that “45 per cent of respondents indicated that (Kamala) Harris’s selection made them more likely to vote in November.” 

Kamala is the first Asian woman contesting on a major party ticket and her mother comes from Chennai.  Interestingly, Biden too has an India connection as a “great great great great forefather” of Biden had lived in India and had married an Indian woman. There are five Bidens still living in Mumbai. Kamala is more popular than Biden among women, young voters, and some Republicans, according to a different Reuters/Ipsos poll survey. 

An interesting find is that the Indian Americans are driven by bread and butter issues, medical services, and the economy and not by Trump’s friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For them, the Indo-US relationship has a much lower priority and thee perceive that the Democrats conduct the US-India relationship better than the Republicans. They voted in large numbers for Obama and in 2016 polls Hillary Clinton.

Trump expected a shift to the Republicans after he participated along with Prime Minister Modi in the “ Howdy Modi “ rally in 2019 September which was followed by this February’s ‘Namaste Trump’ rally in Ahmedabad during the first visit of Trump to India. Modi has cultivated Indian Americans and given them a lot of concessions in India. 

Secondly, on critical issues, Biden and Kamala had criticized the Modi government on the Citizenship Amendment Act and India’s revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.  Democrats also backed Representative Pramila Jayapal when Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar refused to meet her during a visit to Washington D.C last year because of her critical stance on Kashmir.  

The Democrats are wooing the Indian community in a big way this time. Biden is depending on his pro–India stands in his political career. During the Indo-US nuclear Treaty debate, Biden had supported it strongly. He has promised to stand by India against Chinese expansionism. Biden even released a campaign document for India on August 15, this year, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has come out with an exclusive policy document for Indian-Americans.

“He will increase the number of visas offered for permanent, work-based immigration based on macroeconomic conditions and exempt from any cap recent graduates of Ph.D. programmes in STEM fields,” the campaign document said. It emphasized its support to the family-based immigration system 

Women’s votes matter. Biden already has an advantage over Trump among women but he has not improved his standing among black women in recent months, while white women without college degrees still largely favour Trump. 

Indian American influence has been gradually growing.  Before the 1965 Immigrant and Nationality Act, the Indian Americans began to immigrate in a small number. Dalip Singh Saund was the first Indian American elected to the US House of Representatives in 1957. Today, there are five Indian Americans in Congress including Kamala Harris in the Senate.  

Bobby Jindal became the Governor of Louisiana and Nikki Hailey whose parents emigrated from Punjab became first a governor and also the US Ambassador to the United Nations. 

 New Delhi is keeping a close watch on the polls. Whoever becomes the next US President, like any other country, India has to do business with him. Diplomats know how to cultivate both sides though eyebrows were raised when Modi endorsed Trump at the “Howdy Modi” and “Namaste India” rallies. Foreign policy experts point out that India has bipartisan support in the US Congress and should be able to deal with whoever is the next president -Trump or Biden.

Kalyani Shankar is a Delhi- based political commentator and currently consulting editor of the web portal "The Print" as also a syndicated columnist. She is a senior journalist, political analyst and a keen observer of Indo-US relations.

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