Desis Divided: Is Politics in India Leading to Polarised Diaspora in the US?

Are the political boundaries that divide the Indian diaspora in the US becoming sharper every passing year?

South Asians
6 min read
Hindi Female
Edited By :Saundarya Talwar

In a letter to the mayors of Edison and Woodbridge, the Indian Business Association (IBA), apologised on Tuesday, 30 August, for bringing a bulldozer to an Indian Independence Day parade in the two towns of New Jersey, the United States, describing it as "a divisive image that did not reflect our mission."

IBA President Chandrakant Patel offered "his sincere apologies for certain aspects of our 2022 Indian Independence Day Parade that reflected poorly on our organisation and offended the Indian American minority groups, especially Muslims, from the local area, and across the state, and country."

Are the political boundaries that divide the Indian diaspora in the US becoming sharper every passing year?

IBA's apology letter to the mayors of 

(Photo: IBA)

That, however, was not the only controversy that had occurred in the US on the occasion of Independence Day.

A verbal confrontation had also occurred in La Palma Park in Anaheim, California on 15 August, between a group celebrating India's Independence Day and those protesting caste discrimination and violence against Muslims in India.

While such confrontations are not unheard of on days of important events, the larger question concerns the political and religious polarisation of the Indian diaspora in the US. Are the political boundaries that divide the diaspora becoming sharper every passing year?


'Open and Provocative': On the Bulldozer Controversy

"India Day parades in many places have become quite politicised. This year it was much more shameless in the way where they wanted to make a statement by bringing a bulldozer. Those who follow Indian politics know what it symbolizes. It was open and provocative. It has been there for quite some time, and this year in Edison and Anaheim, it was quite something. Most mainstream Indian media did not report on it," ­­­­Sangay Mishra, author of "Desis Divided: The Political Lives of South Asian Americans," told The Quint.

Additionally, he went on to say that the those who advocated the inclusion of the bulldozer are not representative of the larger diaspora community. There is a category of politically engaged people who do this and that is a feature of diaspora's existence.

"In general, conceptually speaking any diaspora you pick, there is an amount of back and forth politically."

On how Mayor Samip Joshi had said it was "unacceptable" and asked for an apology from the group that organised the parade in Edison, Mishra said, that it made political sense for the mayor to condemn the use of the bulldozer, "because he will lose support, all kinds of support."

"New Jersey has large Arab and other Muslim communities. It’s not a mayor's job to vet event details, so he might not have been vetting, but when people reached out to him, it was the right thing to do."

Mishra did acknowledge that "there is a real danger emerging" along religious lines and it will be harmful for the South Asian community. "South Asian Americans have politically not aligned with Islamophobic tropes in US, they are aligned with those who opposed these tropes, but the concern is that this polarisation is becoming an issue."

'Shame on Them for Bringing This Kind of Stuff Here'

Ankur Vaidya, chairman of the Federation of Indian Associations, which has been organising the India Day Parade in NYC for 40 years said that a hundred thousand people attended the parade this year in Manhattan.

"We organise events that amplify and glorify traditions that have to do with motherland and culture and represent accurately our motherland and our diaspora."

When asked about the inclusion of the bulldozer in the Edison rally, he said asserted that while they know what they were doing, it was just one or two guys. "It is embarrassing – it should be a pride of our community that there is an Indian American mayor in Edison. It is preposterous that he had to apologise for something he doesn't know of."

"I am in the construction industry and I see at least five bulldozers daily , how do we know what else it is a symbol of. You can’t call it of ignorance as you don’t expect anyone to watch every news every single minute. You can’t expect him to watch news every minute to know what’s happening in India and elsewhere. Shame on them for bringing this kind of stuff here." he added.

On the issue of polarisation, Vaidya said that some "tend to sway towards local politics in the home country and try to apply that to here."

"For example, a guy comes in UP with certain beliefs that he grew up, then he will try to apply them here too. Let local domestic politics be where they belong. Why bring a problem of India or Egypt or Canada here? Why catch a flying bullet? If you vote here, India is not your voting domain, this is not your voting clientele. What is the need to represent a political party from that country?"


'Hindu Right is Powerful & Well-Financed in the US'

The Quint also spoke to two protesters who attended the Independence Day mela at La Palma Park in Anaheim to find out more about the confrontation and about the polarisation of the Indian diaspora in the US.

"Within a minute of us entering the public park, where the event was happening, we were mobbed by a group of male elders at this event. They all looked like Indian/South Asian men who pushed/grabbed us, knocked our cell phones down, they tore up our signs while the gathered crowd of them chanted extremist nationalist slogans and chanted Islamophobic slurs," one protester, while requesting anonymity, said in their narration of the event.

A video shared by Jeong Park, a journalist covering Asian American communities for the Los Angeles Times, shows the one group engaging in a verbal confrontation with the other, with some abuses being hurled.

Loud chants of 'Vande Mataram' and 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' could be heard. Protesters could be seen carrying placards that read 'Justice for Dalit Lives' and 'Stop Fascism in India.'
  • 01/04

    Posters and placards used by protesters during the mela in La Palma Park. 

    (Photo: The Quint)

  • 02/04

    Posters and placards used by protesters during the mela in La Palma Park. 

    (Photo: The Quint)

  • 03/04

    Posters and placards used by protesters during the mela in La Palma Park. 

    (Photo: The Quint)

  • 04/04

    Posters and placards used by protesters during the mela in La Palma Park. 

    (Photo: The Quint)

"While we were expecting some over aggression, we weren’t prepared for the physical attack, and it was only when the staff member of the park's department intervened and threatened to shut down the event that they cooled off. And I just wanted to clarify that they repeatedly kept claiming that it was a private event, but it wasn’t a private event, it was a public event which was free and open to public," the protester added.

They went on to say that it is important for those in the diaspora to raise as much awareness as possible about the fact that the "Hindu right is powerful and well financed in the United States" and it supports Hindu national efforts in India.

"We are a group of independent but highly concerned people who wanted to actively resist against right wing policies of the current Indian government that disproportionately impact minority communities in India and across the diaspora. We were acting in our constitutional right in this country to protest and it was our way of raising and highlighting the atrocities of the current government. Hindutva organisations in the diaspora, especially in Orange County, are some of the biggest funders of Hindu nationalist efforts in the subcontinent."

"I'm not sure if this is a recent phenomenon, because, you know, this right-wing Hindu supremacy movement has been growing and going on for decades, and they get funding from the diaspora Indians who are in America," another anonymous protester claimed while talking to The Quint.

"So, I don't think it's a new thing, I think personally it has gotten more brazen and become more mainstream in the last few years since the BJP has been in power since 2014 and I believe that it's getting worse and worse and worse and the far right has, you know, very much moved to the extent where this can happen at an Indian Independence Day event," they added.

(With inputs from Savita Patel.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Indian Diaspora   Bulldozer 

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