US election 2020: All-out battle to woo South Asian voters

3 weeks ago 11

Days away from Tuesday’s US election, candidates President Trump and Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, are aggressively campaigning in battleground states. Trump held consecutive rallies in Pennsylvania, a state he won in 2016 but is behind in the latest polls. Biden made a stop in this crucial state but also canvassed in Michigan, with his former boss, President Barack Obama. Analysts believe that South Asian voters could be crucial to winning in such states where victories are, historically, always decided on the margins. It is therefore imperative for both candidates to focus on key minority demographics, such as South Asians, as well.

Joe Biden. (Photo: AP)

Both candidates have dubbed this election ‘the most important’ in recent history. Joe Biden has held a consistent and, more recently, fairly large lead over President Trump. But as the 2016 election taught us, the candidate who wins the popular vote does not always go to the White House. The result of the election ultimately hinges on the Electoral College system i.e. a group of electors from each state (roughly in proportion to the size of its population) who ultimately vote on behalf of their constituents. A presidential candidate must gain an electoral vote majority -- at least 270 -- to win. The Biden camp is well-positioned at this late stage in the race heading but still cannot risk complacency.

South Asians traditionally lean Democratic. President Trump’s Republican Party has focused on this fast-growing demographic over the last 4 years. They have conducted outreach programmes among several Indian regional language groups as well -- trying to explain to potential South Asian voters why they should re-elect Trump.

“This is the first time ever that the Republican party has reached out to the grassroots among Indians,’’ says Khushboo Rawlley from the ‘Indian Voices for Trump’ group. “We have had MAGA (Make America Great Again) meets for Punjabis, Gujaratis, Tamils and Telugus. The Indian community has been amazing towards the Republican party.”

PM Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump. (File Photo: Reuters)

Much has been made in India about the cordial relation shared by President Trump with Prime Minister Modi. It’s one of the few countries where Trump has a fairly good approval rating. Rawlley says that under Trump, India has enjoyed international support from America on many fronts including defence, intelligence sharing and security. “President Trump approved India as a net security provider in the South China Sea and the Quad alliance has almost become like another NATO.”

Despite inroads made by the Trump campaign among the South Asian Diaspora, surveys show that Biden holds an advantage with this community. They are overwhelmingly more likely to vote for him. The Democratic Party is largely seen as one that embraces immigrants, minorities and refugees so a natural ally for Asians as well.

The Biden campaign emphasises the point that America’s relations with India flourished under the Obama-Biden administration. According to reports, Biden’s campaign has two prominent Indian Americans as key advisors on issues like healthcare and economy.

Parag Parikh, from the group ‘South Asians for Biden’, says that Biden has a more inclusive vision of America. “His stance on visas, immigration, tolerance -- those symbols matter a lot to this community. We are a community of immigrants and he represents the dream that we came here for.”

Parikh also dismisses concerns that a Joe Biden presidency may not be supportive of India on contentious issues like Kashmir. “We are stronger when we are honest with our friends and I think Donald Trump has shown that he is not always honest with India. He said on two occasions that Narendra Modi asked him to help with the China and Kashmir issue and both those statements proved to be untrue. Joe Biden has said he is a friend of India and he will work with it both on issues he agrees and disagrees upon.”

Kamala Harris. (Photo: Reuters)

It also helps the Democrats that a lot of South Asians see a bit of themselves in Biden’s pick for Vice President, Kamala Harris. She has often referred to the impact that her Indian roots and Tamil mother had on her during the course of the campaign.

Either way, the South Asian demographic seems to be energised like never before and is likely to come out to vote in large numbers. That is in line with the record number of 91 million Americans who have already voted early, signalling a deep interest in this election -- with issues like Covid-19, economy and racial tensions dominating. “People are very active and excited in the South Asian community. Not only Indians but Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as well. There are certain issues like immigration and President Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ which affect this community as well”, says South Asian affairs analyst Faiz Rehman.

Mike Pompeo (second from left) was in New Delhi earlier this week for the 2+2 Ministerial dialogue. (Photo: PTI)

The importance of India-US relationship was underscored during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to New Delhi last week where he signed an important military agreement -- a part of a series to undercut China’s growing influence in the region and bolster ties with India.

Overall, the relationship between the two countries has been growing deeper over the past few decades and is likely to continue whether it’s Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the White House for the next four years. However, the two countries will have to find a way to engage with each other on sticky issues like clean energy and trade.

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