The Dichotomy of Powerful Indian-American Republicans in 2020

While South Asian Republican Coalition furiously backs Trump, the Republican Hindu Coalition wants its demands met.

Published
The Indian American
3 min read
US President Donald Trump at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
i

Over the past three-and-a-half years, Indian-American Republicans have cited consistent economic growth, and a strong relationship between US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as reasons to support and promote another four years of the Trump administration.

However, one powerful Indian-American Republican bloc is holding back its support for Trump until its demands are met.

Why are Trump’s ever so loyal Indian-American Republican supporters divided?

The Staunch Supporters

“India has benefited by the presidency of Donald Trump,” Hemant Bhatt, political activist and founder and director of the South Asian Republican Coalition, told India West newspaper in a recent interview, adding that the Trump administration has been beneficial to small businesses and individual families.

During Trump’s tenure, employment among Indian-Americans has increased from 2.1 million in 2016 to an all-time high of 2.5 million in 2019, according to the US Department of Labour.

And the US President has garnered support amongst the community by extending support to India, standing up to China, and never intervening in the controversial Kashmir issue.

No wonder then that just a couple of months ahead of the US elections, Trump’s re-election campaign on 15 August launched new coalitions to boost its appeal to the Indian diaspora. The coalitions include Indian Voices for Trump, Hindu Voices for Trump, Sikhs for Trump, and Muslim Voices for Trump.

An estimated 1.3 million Indian-Americans are expected to vote in the 3 November election.

“Kashmir is the most sensitive issue for every Indian, as well as every Indian-American. Trump has never interfered in the internal affairs of India – Kashmir – which is an integral part of India. No other US President has stood up to China as much as President Trump has,” Al Mason, the co-chair for the Trump Victory Indian-American Finance Committee and for the recently created Indian Voices for Trump, recently said.

Modi and Trump at the rally in Houston in September 2019.
Modi and Trump at the rally in Houston in September 2019.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Narendra Modi)
“No other US President has ever given the respect to an Indian Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) or to India, as much as President Trump has. President Trump has elevated India’s stature on the world stage. Of course, credit also goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his smart policy towards the US. The India-US relationship has never been stronger, and the Indian-American community in the US largely credits both Trump and Modi for deepening the ties between the two countries.”
Al Mason

The Newly Minted Detractors

So, why is a powerful Indian-American Republican bloc not rooting for Trump – and who are they?

Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, a Chicago-based businessman, founded the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) after he and his wife each donated $449,400 to Trump’s campaign, the maximum allowable amount. Co-founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the RHC held a mega-rally for Trump in October 2016 in Edison, New Jersey, attended by about 8,000 Indian-Americans. It even coined the phrase ‘Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar’ in an advertisement, that was later echoed by Modi at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas.

Kumar, however, has put up some demands in exchange for his support for Trump’s re-election bid in 2020.

Kumar told India-West that one of them was to do with the Deferred Action for Legal Childhood Arrivals (DALCA). DALCA children are the dependents of H-1B visa holders, the majority of whom are Indian-Americans. The businessman said he wants the President to take a firm stand to support DALCA, so that the children who lose their H4 visa status as they turn 21 years and face having to return to the home country, can be protected.

Kumar also wants Trump to address the green card backlog, which has left more than half-a-million Indian-Americans with approved green card applications waiting in a queue of 53 years or more.

Kumar noted that the president had backed off from taking a stand on India’s revocation of Article 370, which provided special autonomous status to the Kashmir region. This has brought in criticism from other Indian-American Republicans as well.

He further demands that Trump publicly approve of India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act as well as voice a new campaign slogan in Hindi.

Even COVID-19 had a role to play.

“Why can’t Trump mandate mask-wearing? COVID-19 would be over in three months,” Kumar added, comparing it to the mandatory wearing of seat belts.

South Asian Republican Coalition’s Hemant Bhatt, however, has spoken in support of Trump’s actions on COVID-19. He has noted that the president immediately banned travel from China, and is working to create supply chains, which can quickly move a vaccine to market.

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