A Very Desi Campaign: Looking at the 2020 US Election

Wooed by both parties, will the Indian-American vote be the ‘difference maker’ it is predicted to be?

Published
The Indian American
4 min read
Both the Trump and the Biden campaigns have cut television and online ads just for Indian-American demographic. Will this make a difference?
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Indian-Americans are the wealthiest immigrant group in the United States. They have given $5.4 million to Biden and his allies in comparison to the $3 million given to President Trump and his backers, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of fundraising disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission for the 2020 presidential campaign.

The 2020 US Election has seen a phenomenon that was previously non-existent. Ballot drop-offs sprawled with the Devnagri script. Memes appealing to the Indian-American electorate smattered across social media. TV and radio ads in native languages, appealing to the Indian-American voter.

Even a 'Trump kundli' has been doing the rounds among the notorious WhatsApp forwards.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. This election campaign has seen desi pop culture appeal to the Indian-American electorate like never before.

"We're seeing it in an unprecedented way this election. I mean, both the Trump and the Biden campaigns have cut television and online ads just for this demographic. What the Republicans have tried to do is really emphasize, again, the partnership between Donald Trump and Narendra Modi to say, we have formed a unique, personal bond. And for this reason, if you want to see U.S.-India relations succeed in the future, as Indian Americans, you should really come to our side", said Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in a recent interview.

"What Joe Biden, the Democrats, have really done is to say, Indian Americans have really been the poster children for America's legacy of relatively open immigration. And if you want an America that is more inclusive, that is more tolerant, that is more welcoming to you and your family members and those who may wish to come from India after you, then there's really only one choice in this election, that is the Democratic Party", he added.

"We are seeing both sides really court this vote, I think, in new and interesting ways, which is a recognition that their sort of time in the political spotlight has really arrived."

Indian-Americans have bought ad spots in order to advocate for their campaign of choosing. The internet now has versions of Lagaan's 'Chalo Chalo' appealing Indian-Americans to vote for Biden. A gun-toting Indian-American Republican speaks of the Trump-Modi allyship in another such video.

"A record number of South Asians are running for office in this election and, in many recent years. This is an exciting time. I mean, people are running for office getting engaged and making sure they have a seat
at the table, a voice. This election is the most important election of our lifetime", Ajay Bhutoria, the man behind the 'Chale Chalo' campaign video, told The Quint.

Florida-based entrepreneur Digvijay “Danny” Gaekwad attempted to popularise “Trump Hai to Safe Hai”, taking a cue from Modi’s campaign slogan, “Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai”.

Handles like @USAHindus4Trump have a timeline filled with political cartoons, where Modi-Trump's friendship is glorified and Biden-Harris' campaign policies muddied.

South Asians have also rallied and aligned themselves to vote. Ravi Patel, of Meet The Patels fame, spoke to the Indian-American community, hoping that Indian-Americans would #CallYourMomala, making sure they are registered to vote.

"This is not only one of the most critical elections in our lifetime, but also very historic and exciting for Asian Americans. It's deeply personal for me and my entire family to see Kamala Harris so close to becoming the Vice President of the United States. This isn't time for any of us to sit on the sidelines, but to do everything we can to elect Biden and Harris. We can make a difference in this election if we can get our parents, then our aunties and uncles and our cousins to vote. Call, zoom, text – do whatever you can", he told The Quint.

They See Blue, a play on the word 'Desi' Blue, is a South-Asian Biden-Harris voluntary group "working to empower the community to have a voice in the national conversation". They are responsible for several radio ad spots speaking to the Indian-American electorate in a language that they 'feel comfortable in'.

"We all have a special connection to others through our own native languages. The communication happens at a different level", Rajiv Bhateja, co-founder of They See Blue, told The Quint.

In one such ad, a father tells his daughter "Meri existing conditions ke wajah se, meri coverage jaa sakti hai", referring to Medicare.

Another one has the voice of a young boy, whose Hindi is laced with a strong American accent 'Nanaji ke guzar jaane ke baad, nani kaise akele reh payegi?", he asks, pointing to alienating immigration policies by the Trump Administration.

"It's important for everybody to vote in every election. That's just democracy", says Bhateja, whose organisation has managed to register 200,000 voters.

"As a whole, the Indian American community has been very disappointed by events of the last four years. They have affected us very deeply and often very personally. The rising racism and mistreatment of people of colour are huge warning signs for us. The denial of science and the resulting deaths due to COVID, tearing apart families and the war on immigration are other major issues for us".

For the first time ever, mainstream media, and social media have worked in congruence to rally the Indian-American vote.

It's now only a matter of hours. As the votes roll in, we will know if these mobilisation efforts have worked or not, and who will preside over the oval office for the coming four years.

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