India in a bind over US Presidential Elections 2020

PIO Kamala Harris vs ‘Namaste Trump’ & ‘Howdy Modi’


August 27, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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US Presidential Elections 2020

Prime Minister Narendra Modi & US President Donald Trump wave to over 50000 Indian Americans at the Howdy Modi rally in Houston in 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiastic endorsement of President Donald Trump at the Howdy Modi event in Houston last year comes to haunt Indian diaspora in US with the nomination of Indian origin Senator Kamala Harris as Democratic Vice Presidential candidate for the US Presidential Elections 2020.

Indian diplomats in Washington DC must have squirmed earlier this week as the Republican National Convention got underway in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Trump campaign launched the first of its series of videos featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly endorsing Trump and highlighting the special relationship that the two leaders share.

The clips were collected from two key events featuring Trump and Modi. One was the September 2019 Howdy Modi event that gathered over 50,000 members of the Indian American community and where Trump shared the dais with Modi. Several other politicians too joined in. The other event that has figured in Trump campaign videos is the Namaste Trump, the extravagant show put up by Modi as a reciprocal gesture to Trump on his visit to India earlier this year. The Trump campaign has reportedly prepared several videos targetting the Indian diaspora that would be released over the next few weeks.

The first video has already been released on social media by Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, and it soon went viral clocking nearly 100,000 views. The Trump Campaign is bound to milch the friendship and the obvious preference that Modi has for Trump in order to try and lure a significant part of the over 2 million strong Indian diaspora living in the United States. There are several reasons for Republicans to pitch for the Indian community. First and foremost, they are extremely wealthy. With an average income of USD 100,000 per year, this is the richest ethnic group in the country. There are nine Indian American billionaires on the Forbes list of world’s wealthiest persons and there are scores of Indian American multimillionaires who are all prime targets for campaign donations and hence are actively wooed by both the parties for each election.

Another major reason is that even though traditionally a bulk of Indian diaspora members have voted Democrats, they may be tempted to vote Republican in 2020 as they are deeply influenced by Modi and his numerous calls to back Trump and his frequent references to the bond and friendship that he shares with Trump is bound to make at least some Indian Americans switch from backing Democrats to the Republicans. Already, the Trump campaign is saying that it has been promised support by a number of associations of the Indian diaspora.

With the nomination of Senator Kamala Harris, daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, the Democrats on the other hand are also very enthusiastic about their chances to not only retain a bulk of Indian American votes but also perhaps attract the few that vote Republicans. Though there have been a few Indian American Senators and even a Governor, but this is the first time ever that a PIO figures on the big ticket of the Presidential election and Harris could effectively swing more than a few votes the Democrats’ way due to her Indian genes.

While it would be quite normal for the two parties to fight amongst each other for every vote or every dollar in campaign funds, what makes the current election a tough spot for the Indian diplomats in Washington DC is that one of the two parties has an Indian origin candidate fighting for the position of the second most powerful person in the US, but the other side has several videos where Indian Prime Minister is endorsing their candidate.

Few governments would tolerate any sort of political activity by the leader of a foreign country. In 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came under sharp criticism for ‘unprecedented interference’ after he asked the 1.2 million strong Turkish diaspora in Germany not to vote for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party due to sharp differences between the two leaders. A year later, Erdogan was again strongly put down by the German government for asking Turkish-origin German voters to vote for his party in general elections in Turkey. Many other European governments did not allow Turkish ministers to visit and canvas amongst the Turkish diaspora for these elections. It was perhaps the first time ever that a foreign leader had actually taken sides during a speech on a visit and asked the voters of the host nation to vote for a particular party.

The US voters are also unlikely to have forgotten the entire controversy about how Russia was allegedly implicated in ensuring a win for Trump in 2016. Indeed, the allegations about foreign interference in the domestic politics of the United States dominated not just the campaign in 2016, but also clouded the atmosphere at the Capitol Hill for at least two years as Congressmen bickered over the alleged Russian interference.

So far it has been surprising that so far the Democrats have not yet responded about the Modi videos being broadcast by Team Trump. They may keep this controversial issue off the table at least till the votes are cast, but they are bound to come back on it after November 3. If they win, they may act graciously enough to brush the issue under the carpet, but such vehement endorsements of Trump by Modi are certain to rankle them and other Democrats for a while yet.



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