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How much do Indian Americans matter in the race to the white house?

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.
 

At last, the United States has two wrestling teams (Democrats Biden +Harris and Republican Trump +Pence) in the ring with the political punches already flying high in the media. The political mudslinging will get into full steam in the weeks ahead with elections on November 3. The winner in the race to the White House will be decided by about 90% U.S. born electorate and the remaining 10% naturalized citizens. Of that, a very small percentage (`0.5%) of Indian Americans are eligible to vote in 2020. Admittedly, every vote matters but do Hindus in America need to be blindly passionate for either candidate and sacrifice Hindu unity, humility, and mutual respect?

To put things in perspective the immediate past Presidents included Clinton (1992-2000); Bush (2000-2008) and Obama (2008-2016) and Trump in 2016. The political relations between the U.S. and India have gone up and down in various administrations, sometimes like a tidal wave. The first major recognition of India’s talent came about during the Y2K bug when the U.S. feared that the world will come to an end at the turn of the century. The then-President Clinton sought help from India’s IT professionals and even visited India. That was the turning point that I saw unfolding firsthand while serving as a policy analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. We survived the Y2K triumphantly and India’s talent came in the limelight with many entrepreneurs leading their startups. The rest is history with many CEOs of Indian origin heading large companies today. Ever since the Indian American community and India as a nation has been steadily rising and shinning.

With respect to U.S.-India relations, these are large “business” decisions-what when, and how the U.S. can increase its market share in India and how each country benefits politically/diplomatically. Mostly, India has been interested in satisfying her appetite for high-end warfare equipment and nuclear and space technology, etc. driven by, at least in part, the ongoing border conflict between India and Pakistan. I don’t believe that the U.S. has any likes or dislikes for India except what and how it serves the U.S. interests. That is in fact what every President, first and foremost, must do. I don’t expect it to change much in the foreseeable future with Trump or Biden in the White House.

Since Modi became Prime Minister, the U.S.-India relations have improved. It started with Obama and continued with Trump. Why? It is in part because of India’s strong geopolitical standing in the world community. In fact, India’s relations globally are very strong. Another reason for the U.S. leaning toward India is because the U.S. and China are at odds due to the ballooning export from China hurting the U.S. economy. The U.S. dependence on the manufactured goods from China got out of hands and China’s espionage activities for the U.S. intellectual property escalated many folds. The pandemic originating in Wuhan and China becoming the world’s supermarket for necessary PPE during the pandemic was a rude awakening globally. China’s expansionist policies in the South China sea and offering loans to the in developing and under-developed countries in exchange for gaining control of their markets are beginning to threaten countries far and near. This is a very important geopolitical global issue and India is a hedge to China’s expansionism and ballooning economy.

Suddenly, India became an important ally in the eyes of the U.S. with its huge consumer market, the potential for manufacturing with relatively low-cost labor, and the availability of skilled youth. The increasing prominence of Indian Americans in the last two decades for their talent, political outreach and ambitions, and personal financial prowess has also pushed India’s standing in the U.S.

Today, Hindus in America (Hindus is an all-encompassing term to include all believers in Sanatan Dharma) are as opinionated as ever but more divided in their political leanings. I perceive that Hindus belonging to Republican ideology are better organized with ongoing support from Indian leaders to turn the tide in favor of Trump. It is all for good reasons such as Trump clamping down on Pakistan, wanting to scuttle China’s influence globally, and the heightened chemistry between Modi and Trump. Modi’s extraordinary visit to Houston later reciprocated for Trump in Ahmedabad were exemplary events making their friendship far more visible. Yes, the current political climate suggests that Trump’s victory is in India’s interest. But, do we know how long that may last, and at what cost? How much can we trust Trump or Biden coming to rescue India, if needed, in the future? I say that Hindus should not go all out for either candidate in a hurry.

Biden’s announcement of Kamala Harris as his running mate, a half Indian, brought an interesting twist in the race to the White House. Trump and many of his supporters right away got into badmouthing her; not unusual in politics. A group of Hindus is going as far as calling Democratic-leaning Hindus “stupid.” Hindus not voting for Trump are being labeled anti-Modi and supporters of Jihadism, terrorism, and Islamization. Some misguided folks have resorted to mixing political ideology with Hindutva. One person on a chat group wrote, “ Not sure why some people I earlier thought were very pro-Hindu and pro-India and I had high respect for them suddenly fell in love with the traitor half-Indian half black lady who is anti-India?” Putting political ideologies aside, Kamala Harris came from very humble beginnings, rose through the ranks as a strong leader in her own right, and if elected, she will be the first half-Indian, half-black woman to occupy the second-highest office in the U.S. It calls into question and brings shame to our principles of Hindutva calling a person of her stature a “traitor.”

Obviously, there will be only one victor in the race influenced by a razor-thin margin due to Indian American votes. As educated as Hindus in America are, they should respect individuals for who they are and not swayed in name-calling to others with opposing political ideologies. It is unfathomable that the association of a Hindu with any political ideology makes her/him a lesser Hindu or defines the person being pro- or anti-Modi. An eligible American Hindu has the right to vote whomever s/he deems appropriate. Being a zealot Republican or Democrat is a sign of progress among Hindus; persuasion through arguments to change one’s ideology is fine but undue pressure is unwarranted, uncalled for, immoral, and unethical.

There is no reason to color the contentious election with the color of skin, ancestry, and gender of Kamala Harris. In fact, the election is between Biden and Trump; why drag her or Pence in it. Let the political process go on like the debates focusing on the U.S. economy, issues like immigration, plans for America to recover from the pandemic, and foreign policy, etc. When possible, let us ask the hard questions about their stance on the disputed Kashmir and the terrorism originating in India’s neighboring country. Let us focus on substance rather than judge any of them based on their gender, color, and/or political affiliations.

American Hindus have far bigger issues to fry and fight for which necessitate unity, not divisiveness. We must fight jihadism, terrorism, Hinduphobia, and anti-Indianness. The political rhetoric, name-calling, and mudslinging are part of electioneering between candidates which I don’t appreciate but have no control. The past performance is no guarantee for continued good behavior by any President, and the election promises and statements may not mean a whole lot after the election because of the fast-changing political environment globally. So why any Hindu should put all eggs in one basket now. Let us stay alert to both wrestling teams and their ideas and ideologies and cast vote wisely when the time comes. As a Hindu, I am a believer in Modi policies and stick to pro-India thinking but that does not mean that my decision to vote in 2020 can/will/should be swayed and influenced by any misguided person supporting a certain political ideology. Only arrogant people ask who you would vote for.

Let the wrestling continue; watch how politics shape up between now and November; use persuasion over pressure about your political ideology, respect each candidate for who they are but not promote divisiveness by labeling one group being lesser Hindus than the other, and any candidate being a traitor. Reinvent your humility and let the chips fall where they may. We are merely about 1.2 million voters of Indian origin including Hindus and Hindu haters. We should ask the question- should Hindus have strong unity against Hindu-haters rather than the hate politics dividing us?

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.

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