How Desi Republicans Harness ‘Patriotism’ to Woo Votes for Trump

Republican Indian-Americans have been convincing voters about India’s safety being tied to Trump.

Published
The Indian American
6 min read
Image used for representation purpose.
i

Viewers of Mana TV and TV5 Telugu channels have been watching US election-related news and debates for many months now.

Network CEO Sridhar Chillara, a strong Republican, ensures that the content is non-partisan so as to not alienate any viewers. However, the content he uses for election campaigning, reflects his personal views as a Republican.

Chillara is the founder of Asian American Republican Alliance (AARA), a group with state cadres of grassroot volunteers in 10 battleground US states. Also called swing states, these are key to presidential elections. Chillara’s focus is to ensure that voters elect Trump in the 2020 election.

Why Trump Matters

AARA studied what factors appeal to the desi community to be convinced of voting Republican. Based on their analysis they identified that Indian-Americans are highly indebted to their ‘janmabhoomi’, and they cannot be content in US unless India is peaceful.

To ensure India remains peaceful, AARA volunteers have been distributing flyers and convincing voters about India’s safety being tied to a Trump Presidency. Chillara cites the USD 3b India-US defence deal as a canvassing point: “There will be no wars from China and Pakistan during his (Trump) presidency. This president is publicly challenging China.”

Indians here believe that Trump won’t support China if there is a China-India war. The already signed deal offers a great deal to India – technology, military equipment, high level intelligence, and monitoring systems. Recently, the US sent military equipment to India to protect bases from China.

Indians here believe that Trump won’t support China if there is a China-India war. The already signed deal offers a great deal to India – technology, military equipment, high level intelligence, and monitoring systems. Recently, the US sent military equipment to India to protect bases from China.

Targeting the love for their home country, this message to desis reverberated at in-person and virtual events, via phone, texts, web calls, and pamphlets across many states in Republican outreach groups’ engagement with voters on the ground.

Board member of ‘US Impact’, Satish Chandra Vale has been attempting to enthuse desi voters in California by highlighting policies that are core to the group’s ideology: “People get lost when they vote, we educate them, try to give them information about how China will affect us, why Trump is very important for India becoming a stronger country. The Malabar quad exercise will keep China at bay.”

Trump’s supporters are spreading the emotional spiel of India being safer in his presidency, on electronic media too. Florida’s Danny Gaekwad produced and released an advertisement on local TV networks and social media, in admiration of Trump:

“India-China were at war and the President sent his fleet of F-35s. China got deterred because of that. I say – Trump hai to Safe hai. He stood by Modi in Kashmir and for CAA, when the world was criticising, He does not meddle in India’s internal issues.”

A board member of the ‘Indian Voices for Trump Coalition’, Khushboo Rawlley has been actively campaigning for Trump and Texan Republican candidates in this election cycle:

“We are a PAC, we work for the Trump campaign, we support Trump to get the vote out. We explain what the Republican party stands for. I meet people and tell them that Trump is standing with Modi, against China. It is a big thing for Indian-Americans, as they have families in India, it is an emotional issue for them and a critical issue.”

Along with information about other Republican stands, she convinced a Dallas voter using the India-US defence deal messaging: “Trump ne 3b$ deal kiya hai India ke defence ke liye. India war situation mein tha. Biden ne 1992 mein Russia-India ka rocket deal oppose kiya tha.”

The Biden-Harris campaign has not opposed India-US defence deals. Speaking to the Indian-American community this year on 15 August, Biden said: "I'll continue to believe and continue what I've long called for including – standing with India and confronting the threats it faces in its own region along its borders.”

He recalled from 15 years ago, "I said that if the US and India became closer friends and partners, then the world will be a safer place."

Since Trump became president, the US and India have amped up their defence relationship.

When Trump visited India in February, defence deals worth over $3 billion were signed. Bilateral defence trade increased to $15 billion in 2019.

But it was Obama in 2016, who had declared India as a ‘Major Defence Partner’, a distinction the US didn’t use for any other country, paving the way for this cooperation. 'India-US Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region' was signed by Obama and Modi in 2015.

Prominent Indian-Americans working in the Trump campaign also are of the view that India will receive support in a Trump presidency.

Sampat Shivangi, a seasoned Republican who has worked with Democratic and Republican Presidents, cites Trump’s international diplomatic support for India, as one of the reasons to re-elect him, “He openly supports India. He could have helped China and Pakistan by going against article 370 in UN. He helped by having no one second that motion in UN Security Council. The whole world would be against India if he didn’t help.”

Shivangi works in the Trump campaign as a member of Coalition Advisory Board.

Wooing Desi Republican Votes

The contentious CAA and Article 370 feature prominently in Republican desi voter outreach groups’ canvassing. Co-founder of ‘US Impact’, Badri Singh prefers that other countries don’t meddle in India’s internal affairs.

His group works closely with members of the Republican party.

“Texas is a red state. The national and the state republican party was totally unaware of CAA, when it was announced. We made them aware,” he adds.

Badri goes on to explain that the problems started when four Democratic cities in US, including San Francisco and Seattle, brought out statements against CAA. He dug into the details: “We found that some of the city council officials were Pakistani-Americans. They couldn’t do much in Kashmir, hence they push this protest internationally, they use any leverage they have in any city.”

According to Badri, this was the trigger for Indian-Americans, whose hearts bleed for India.

“Any disrespect shown towards India affects them deeply. This made the Indian American population to start thinking collectively. This factor touched them. The election will see a high turnout of at least 80%. It is not only the Modi-Trump friendship, which was the reason earlier, it is the anti-CAA resolutions that woke up the sleeping Indian-Americans to get out to vote. The swing voter stared thinking why vote for a party that demeans India. There is huge displeasure on ground for democrats, for demeaning Hindu Americans,” he added.

Badri Singh believes Trump is the answer for Indian-Americans.

“Democratic party has moved to the Left. It has a Muslim-oriented approach. They are a third party and India’s stance on Kashmir is an internal matter. The leadership of Democratic party’s stand is similar to that of Pakistan, that raises eyebrows.”

Singh likens the top reasons that resonate with desi Republican voters to an Indian sweet-dish ‘kheer’.

“Trump's support for Modi and not interfering in India's internal matters is the base, milk and rice or ‘sewai’ of the 'kheer', and the Trump administration's defence deal with India is ‘cheeni’, the extra sweetener."

Both Parties Court Indian-Americans

2020 has seen a huge courting of immigrant communities, including Indian-Americans, by both parties in an effort to leave no vote on the table.

Joe Biden reached out to Indian-Americans through an op-ed in a local desi newspaper: “As we value the Indian-American diaspora, we’ll continue to value the US-India relationship. For Donald Trump, it’s photo-ops. For me, it’s getting things done.”

The Biden-Harris campaign and supporters have consistently raised issues like Trump’s pandemic response, racial discrimination, immigration, and the economy in their canvassing. This is more in line with Carnegie Endowments’ Indian-American Attitude Survey’s finding that Indian-Americans do not consider India-US ties to be one of the principal determinants of their vote choice in this election.

The economy and healthcare are the two most important issues influencing Indian-American voters. Just like other citizens, Republican and Democratic Indian-American voters are politically polarised and hold markedly negative views of the opposing party. The survey also did not find any evidence that Democratic voters are defecting toward Trump. 72% of registered Indian-American voters plan to vote for Biden-Harris.

(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!