The powerful Republican Hindu Coalition, which in 2016 stepped in heavily to engage candidate Donald Trump with the Indian American community, is backing off of the president’s campaign until its demands are met.
In 2016, Chicago-area businessman Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar founded the RHC after he and his wife each donated $449,400 to Trump’s campaign, the maximum allowable amount. The RHC was co-founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The Kumars served as “bundlers” for Trump’s first run for the White House.
The RHC held a mega-rally for Trump in October 2016 in Edison, New Jersey, attended by about 8,000 Indian Americans. Trump pledged to the crowd that India would always have a friend in the White House if he was elected.
Later that month, the RHC released an ad to curry the favor of the Indian American community. The slogan, “Ab ki Baar Trump Sarkar” — this time, it is Trump’s turn — went viral. Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated the phrase at the “Howdy Modi” event last October in Houston, Texas, informally endorsing the president.
But in an interview Aug. 31, Kumar told the media the RHC would greatly reduce its level of support for Trump’s re-election bid unless his six demands were met. Trump’s re-election campaign did not respond to an on the record request for comment from India-West, but said in an email on background: “The Republican Hindu Coalition is organized as a 501(c)(4) and cannot legally coordinate any efforts with the Trump Campaign.”
Kumar said he is a huge supporter of a proposal called DALCA — Deferred Action for Legal Childhood Arrivals — H4 children who are aging out of their status and face having to return to the home country, despite having spent most of their lives in the U.S. DALCA children are the dependents of H-1B visa holders, the majority of whom are Indian Americans.
The businessman has said he wants the president to take a firm stand to support DALCA, and a related issue, the green card backlog, which has left more than half a million Indian Americans with approved green card applications waiting in a queue of 53 years or more. Horror stories have emerged of people dying while waiting in the green card queue.
Kumar told India-West he also wants the president to take a stand approving India’s Citizenship Amendment Act, a controversial measure passed last year that grants citizenship to undocumented Indians but excludes Muslims. The businessman noted that the president had backed off from taking a stand on India’s revocation of Article 370, which provided special autonomous status to the Kashmir region. Indian American Republicans interviewed for an earlier story chastised Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris for voicing opposition to the revocation of Article 370.
Kumar said he also wanted the president to voice a new campaign slogan in Hindi. If his demands are met, Kumar said the RHC would put their efforts into the critical battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. He noted that Biden is popular in Michigan, which Trump narrowly won in 2016.
“Indian Americans could be the margin of victory in battleground states,” said Kumar, noting that a large number of Indian Americans are Independents, who could be swept up by either party.
Kayo Anderson, executive director of the Republican Hindu Coalition, told India-West: “To engage the community as we did in 2016 we need certain elements on the table. We are critical to turning out the Indian American vote for Trump.”
Kumar attended the Republican National Convention Aug. 27 as Trump spoke from the South Lawn of the White House and formally accepted his party’s renomination. In the speech, which exceeded 70 minutes and went off prepared remarks at several junctures, Trump tacitly referred to revamping the H-1B program, recalling the Tennessee Valley Authority, which had laid off several full-time employees, who were forced to train their H-1B replacements. The president said in his speech that he got the American workers’ jobs back: he has since banned federal agencies from employing H-1B workers.
The businessman told India-West he was critical of the arrangements for the president’s speech: almost no one in attendance wore masks as protection against COVID-19. Seating, with chairs stacked against each other, did not allow for social distancing.
“Why can’t Trump mandate mask wearing? COVID would be over in three months,” speculated Kumar, comparing it to the mandatory wearing of seat belts.