With about three and a half months to go for the election day, prominent Democrats urged the Indian-American community to vote this year and support presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden — emphasising his character and history of support for the India-U.S. relationship.
The pitch is particularly significant in “battleground States”, and at a time when the country is highly polarised on key issues including U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic , immigration and racial justice.
Drawing links to the message of civil rights leader John Lewis who died on Friday, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez urged the Indian community to vote. Mr. Lewis called the vote “the most powerful, non-violent tool in a democratic society”.
The Indian-American vote and the AAPI (a term used in the U.S. to refer to the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander community) vote, more broadly, could make a significant difference in the elections, Mr. Perez said.
There are about 1.3 million eligible American-Indian voters in eight “battleground States”, namely: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
“We lost Michigan by 10,700 votes in 2016,” Mr. Perez said making a reference to the 1,25,000 Indian-American votes in that State.
“In Pennsylvania, a 1,56,000 [Indian-American voters] …we lost Pennsylvania by 42-43,000,” he said. In Wisconsin, 37,000…we lost Wisconsin by 21,000 in 2016.”
With Mr. Trump’s numbers in the polls falling due to his handling of the virus and race-related issues, Democrats at the virtual townhall pushed Mr. Biden’s candidacy on the basis of his personality as much as his politics.
Obama-era Surgeon General Vivek Murthy spoke about how, at his swearing in (2015), Mr. Biden walked backstage and knelt down in front of Mr. Murthy’s grandmother who was in a wheelchair and said, “Grandma, look at what you’ve done,” pointing to all those who had gathered there for the ceremony.
The right questions
Mr. Murthy also said he had weekly conversations with Mr. Biden on COVID-19 and that the Democrat was “asking the right questions” and coming up with ideas.
Mr. Biden’s India policy credentials were discussed by some of the speakers.
“I can confidently say there would have been no U.S.-India civil nuclear deal but for Joe Biden,” said former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma. According to him, Mr. Biden would “help shape” the U.N. to give India a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council .
Mr. Verma also made references to Mr. Joe Biden helping India with its neighbourhood challenges — without naming Pakistan with regard to cross-border terrorism or China with regard to changing the status of borders.
“He [Mr. Biden] would work together with India to keep our citizens collectively safe. That means standing up against cross-border terrorism and standing with India when its neighbours attempt to change the status quo,” Mr. Verma said.
The India relationship has strong bipartisan support in Washington.
On China for instance, individuals in the Trump administration such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have supported India and repeatedly spoken of China’s recent actions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and characterised those as part of a larger pattern of Chinese aggression in other arenas — Taiwan, Hong Kong and the South China Sea for instance.
Support has come from Democrats as well.
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House Foreign Affairs Committee Leader, Democrat Eliot Engel, asked China to “respect norms and use diplomacy” to resolve differences with India.
But the relationships have not been without recent challenges on both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers, mostly Democrats (but also some Republicans) had taken issue last year with India’s legislative actions in Kashmir (Article 370 related), the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Registry of Citizens (NRC). Talk of that has largely subsided as India, the world and the United States began grappling with the pandemic.
While Prime Minister Modi’s personal rapport with Mr. Trump might sway some Indian-American voters towards the Republican party, most of this demographic are expected to vote Democrat, University of California political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan had said in February.
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A lot however has happened since then that has impacted Indians in the U.S. Mr. Trump’s temporary suspension of H-1B visas has impacted mostly Indians and the administration’s recent policy battles over foreign students being permitted to take online-only course loads has left over a million students, including some 2,00,000 Indians, with a great deal of uncertainty about their plans over the next year .