Hindu Vote Is An Important Factor In US Elections

Niraj Antani, a Republican running for US Congress, is aggressively projecting his Hindu faith. Bhavini Patel, a Democrat running for Congress, is battling allegations of courting Hindu nationalist donors. And Indian-descent donors are pressing the Biden-Harris campaign for a “Hindu page” in its 2024 campaign manifesto.

The “Hindu Vote” appears to have become a factor in US politics. There is no rock solid count of Hindus in the US because the US Census does not record religious affiliation in its surveys. But there are several estimates.

Pew Research Center said 0.7 per cent of Americans were Hindu in 2015 and that their number is projected to grow to 4.8 million by 2050. Harvard Divinity School estimated their number to be 2.5 million in 2018. And some Hindu Americans put the number generously at 5 million, which, they concede, includes Sikhs and Jains. As crucial as their number is US politics, so is their ability to write big donation checks.

Niraj Antani, an Ohio state lawmaker who is running in the Republican primary for a congressional seat, has frequently described himself as Hindu and posted this message on X, to mark the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya: “As the 1st Hindu American State Senator in Ohio history, today it was my privilege to do Darshan to Lord Ram at @BAPS Cincinnati Mandir to mark the opening of his Mandir in Ayodhya. As we celebrate this occasion, let us stand for religious freedom around the world. Jai Shri Ram!” His pinned post on X is an endorsement from the Hindu American PAC.

Hindu Vote Is An Important Factor In US Elections (The Week)
Picture: The Week

Bhavini Patel, a Democrat who is seeking to unseat the incumbent Democrat in a congressional race in Pennsylvania, is being attacked by her opponent for courting Hindu nationalist donors, as also for her unstinting support for Israel.

A fundraising call she hosted with Mihi Meghani, a co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation was being cited as proof of her courting Hindu groups. Meghani is also the chair of the Hindu American PACs whose endorsement is a pinned post on Antani’s X feed.

The Patel campaign has denied these allegations. The back and forth only demonstrates the growing presence of a Hindu vote in US politics.

“There was always a Hindu vote, which was not recognized publicly,” said Ramesh Kapur, a longtime Democratic donor and strategist.

“But it is being recognized now, and has come to the fore in the context of the 2024 elections.” A bunch of donors are also pressing the Biden-Harris re-election campaign to include a “Hindu Page” in its manifesto, whenever it is announced.

The same group had tried but failed to convince the Biden campaign to feature the same page in its manifesto that ran on the campaign’s website as “Joe’s Vision”. It had sections dedicated to Muslims, Jews, African American, and so on. The campaign did issue Biden’s agenda for Indian Americans but this group of Hindu donors were insistent on a “Hindu Page” in “Joe’s Vision” specially because of the observances in the section for Muslims.

“Joe Biden has been disappointed by the measures that the government of India has taken with the implementation and aftermath of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act into law,” it had said, referring laws that sought to fast-track citizenship request from non-Muslims fleeing neighboring countries and keeping a national registry of citizens.

Both laws remain un-enforced.

These donors are pressing for the page with an offer to provide President Biden the cushion of Hindu American votes to offset the possible boycott of Arab and Muslim votes over the administration’s support of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza, especially in the key swing states that tend to determine most presidential races.

A phrase being used frequently in this context is “plug the gap”.

Wisconsin, one of the swing states, will be critical. Biden won this state by 20,000 in 2020. It has an estimated 38,400 Hindu Americans and they may be able to cushion the blow from the boycott by the state’s 68,000 Muslims to an extent. These numbers come from a document prepared by these donors to make their case.

Hindu Americans are more confident of their ability to help Biden better in Georgia, a state he won by roughly 12,000. The state is home to 172,000 Hindu Americans, who can more than compensate for its 123,000 Muslims.

In Pennsylvania, which Biden won by 44,000, Hindu Americans number 129,700 to 149,500 Muslim Americans. Hindu Americans are not able to fill the gap completely but, they are arguing, they can help the campaign fill the gap.

But all this presumes Hindu Americans will turn up and vote and not, as mostly before, staying home. These Hindu Americans feel particularly confident of their clout on account of two key political developments.

One, they believe, they helped Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, win the Governorship of Virginia, and, two, convinced Gavin Newsom, the California Governor with widely acknowledged White House aspirations, to veto a legislation passed by the California legislatures to add “caste” to the list of prohibited discriminatory practices.

Hindu Americans are mostly of Indian descent but a sizable number of them are also from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Caribbean, Afghanistan and American converts such as former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s family.

Indian Americans have been a growing political force in the US, but many among them have begun to differentiate themselves as Hindu Americans, a trend that has been helped along by the rise of the BJP in India, specially the immense popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Multiple groups have cropped up with names wrapped around the word “Hindu” — Republican Hindu Coalition, American Hindu Coalition, Hindus 4 America, Hindu American PAC (Political Action Committee).

Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal, the three Indian American members of the House of Representatives are all Hindu, but they have rarely, if ever, flouted their faith to further their politics. And they have now been members of US Congress since 2017, serving three terms. Shri Thanedar, who joined them in the House in 2023 has been demonstrably bolder. He heads the Hindu Caucus in the House. (IANS)

US Calls Out Attacks And Home Demolitions Of Minorities In India

The US State Department on Monday noted “targeted attacks” on minorities, “home demolitions” and hate speeches against Muslims in India among threats facing religious freedom around the world.

The State Department outlined in great detail “numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states” in India in its 2022 annual report on the state of freedom of religion around the world.

The report was released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken who noted both progress and “continuation, and in some instances, the rise of very troubling trends”.

Previewing the report earlier, a senior State Department official told reporters that regarding India the document outlined “continued targeted attacks against religious communities, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu Dalits, and indigenous communities; dehumanizing rhetoric, including open calls for genocide against Muslims; lynching and other hate-fueled violence, attacks on houses of worship and home demolitions, and in some cases impunity and even clemency for those who’ve engaged in attacks on religious minorities – we’re also continuing to see, at the state level, some restrictions on religious attire”.

Rashad Hussain, the Ambassador at Large at the State Department for International Religious Freedom, cited the Hardwar speeches of December 2021 as particularly problematic.

“In India, legal advocates and faith leaders from across the country’s diverse religious communities condemned a case of extreme hate speech against Muslims in the city of Hardwar, calling for the country to uphold its historical traditions of pluralism and tolerance,” he said at the release of the report.

He was referring to a three-day meeting called the Dharma Sansad in December 2021, where speakers called for people to take up arms against Muslims.

A case was registered by the Uttarakhand police against the organiser. The other countries mentioned by Hussain were Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

The State Department’s annual report has been critical of the state of religious freedom in India before, and, based on local news reports and accounts from civil society, it has listed instances and cases over the years.

India has rejected these unsolicited observations and remarks before and in recent years questioned America’s right to stand in judgment on other countries.

The US Commission on International Freedom have been far more critical of India and has recommended to the State Department to designate India as a “country of particular concerns” four times. But the State Department has not taken up its suggestion yet. These designations are to be announced later in the year. (IANS)

Indian-American Nabeela Syed Makes History In US Midterm Polls

“My name is Nabeela Syed. I’m a 23-year-old Muslim, Indian-American woman,” she announced in a tweet on Wednesday.

“We just flipped a Republican-held suburban district.”

She added: “And in January, I’ll be the youngest member of the Illinois General Assembly.”

And as it invariably happens with these path-breakers, she has notched a few more firsts along the way: first Indian-American elected to the Illinois state House — man or woman of any faith — and along with Palestinian-American Abdel Nasser Rashid, the first Muslim elected to the state legislature.

Syed wears a hijab, and some publications noted it.

Kesha Ram, who is now serving in the Vermont state Senate, probably holds the record for being the youngest Indian-American ever elected to a state legislature. She was only 21 when she was elected to the state’s legislative body. She ran unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor in 2016. She belongs to the family of Sir Ganga Ram, the builder of modern Lahore who has a Delhi hospital named after him.

Syed was born in Illinois, but not much else could be ascertained about her family, other than that her parents, or one of them at least came from India.

Syed’s campaign website says she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in political science and business administration, where she served as the President of a pro-bono consulting organisation assisting local businesses and non-profits.

“It doesn’t seem real, but I am a state representative-elect now and I will be the youngest member of the General Assembly,” she told ABC News.

The 2022 midterm will go down in history as responsible for giving the US the first Generation Z member of the US Congress — Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a 25-year-old Democrat elected to the House of Representatives from Florida. President Joe Biden joined the national celebration of his election by congratulating him in a phone call.

Syed frames her election as part of this effort by youngsters to claim their place in politics, rather than wait for their turn, euphemism for waiting for someone to retire.

“It is so important for us to have a seat at the table, for us to have a voice in the legislative process,” Syed went on to say in the ABC interview.

“People say wait your turn or there is no space for you. We made space,” she added. (IANS)

Modi’s ‘Rebuke’ Of Putin Heard In US

The “abrupt and unheralded change” in India’s stand on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as reflected in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “public rebuke” of Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, has been heard in official Washington DC with some relief and satisfaction.

Prime Minister Modi made it “clear to Putin’s face that the invasion is wrong”, said Ro Khanna, an Indian American lawmaker who has been critical of India’s refusal to condemn the invasion. Speaking at a community event on Wednesday, he went on to suggest Modi could also help in a “peaceful resolution and a ceasefire”.

Earlier the same day in New York, a senior White House official pointed to the new Indian position as testimony to the Biden administration’s strategy of just laying out the facts on Ukraine for other countries to see and judge for themselves instead of forcing them to change their stand.

“The US strategy has borne fruit insofar as you are seeing increasing signs of countries that did abstain, to include countries like India speaking out in a different way, including directly in front of Putin,” the official said. “And, you know, we’d like to see more than that, obviously, in the days ahead.”

India was among 34 countries that abstained in an UN general assembly vote in March that deplored Russia for invading Ukraine. China had also abstained.

New Delhi came under significant pressure from the US and its western allies to condemn the invasion and either stop buying Russian oil or not ramp it up, as it would enable Moscow to withstand the economic sanctions imposed on it to force it to end the war and leave Ukraine.

India did neither. Until last week. “Today’s era is not of war,” Prime Minister Modi told Putin in public remarks ahead of their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. That went much further than India’s expression of ‘grave concern’ over the killing of civilians in Ukraine’s Bucha, and call for respecting the UN charter that protects the sovereignty and integrity of all member nations.

US frustration with India’s refusal to condemn Russia and stop oil from it, had led to a rather unfortunate outburst from a senior White House official sent to New Delhi for these talks. He had warned India of “consequences”.

“I’ve been clear about India, and I think India ought to be condemning Putin and India ought not to be getting oil from Russia or China. We ought to rally the world to isolate Putin,” Khanna said on Fox News in days after the UN general assembly vote.

Khanna had gone on to say that it was time for India to choose between the US and Russia. “First, India should condemn Putin in the UN for the blatant human rights violations. Second, they need to realise, they have to pick sides,” he said, adding, “We, the United States, were with them when China invaded India. Putin wasn’t there. And it’s time for them to buy weapons from the United States, not Russia. We’ve got to look at how we can facilitate that and make that easier. We need India as an ally ultimately to contain China.” (IANS)

Indian Americans Seek To Rebrand Themselves As Hindu Americans

Some ‘Indian Americans’ are switching to self-identifying themselves as ‘Hindu Americans’ and plan to announce the rebranded entity as a political force at a ‘summit’ on Capitol Hill, home to the US congress, late September to deliver their message directly to the lawmakers.

Titled ‘Hindu American Summit for Political Engagement’, the event will see the leadership of the “spirited American Hindu community discussing to actively engage in the US political system”, according to a flyer circulated by the organisers that also serves as an invitation.

But the rebranding effort actually reflects growing unease among Indian Americans with being tied to the policies and positions taken by the Indian government and to be seen by Americans as representing them. They also feel the need to assert their ‘Americanness’ while being still attached to their country of origin, by religion now and not politics.

The summit is being organised by ‘Americans 4 Hindus’ and the ‘American Hindus Coalition’, both unabashedly Hindu outfits, and it will be attended by representatives of the national, California and Texas units of the ‘Americans 4 Hindus’; the national, New York and Florida units of the ‘Hindu American PAC’ (political action committee); Hindus of Georgia PAC, Hindu PACT (World Hindu Council of America); Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America; Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh of America and few others.

As a measure of the seriousness of this rebranding effort, organisers have invited only bodies that have declared their religious identity overtly, with the word ‘Hindu’ in their names.

An event to commemorate 75 years of India’s Independence Day — observed by India as Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav — has been relegated to the footnote position in the summit flyer, as a sideshow, because, it is being hosted by the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), which does not have the word ‘Hindu’ in the name but is a powerful entity nevertheless. It hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at its 2020 annual meet that was held virtually because of Covid-19.

Some of the groups involved in the summit have been active politically for a while, raising money and funding candidates in both state and federal elections. These bodies have been individually active for a while, funding candidates running for political office at federal and state level.

Americans 4 (also calls itself ‘for’) Hindus raised $228,311 in the 2019-20 election cycle, according to Open Secrets, which tracks election funding in the US. Most of his money went to Republicans. The Hindu American PAC raised $55,833 in the same period and gave to both Republicans and Democrats.

“For half a century, Indian Americans have maintained strong loyalty with India but its recent diplomatic confrontations with the western countries is forcing us to rebrand ourselves as ‘Hindu Americans’, similar to the ‘Jewish Americans’,” said Shekhar Tiwari, chairman-founder of the American Hindu Coalition, which is co-hosting the summit.

“Unfortunately this change will create distance with India which might only grow with time,” he added. Though numerically a minority, such Indian/Hindu Americans, Jewish Americans wield enormous political clout, with both Republicans and Democrats. They have used this clout to also support Israel and insulate it from backlash to some of its most controversial actions.

Indian Americans have long held the Jewish American community’s clout as a model, and now Hindu Americans are saying they too can be known for their religious identity as the Jewish Americans, not just for their links to India.

India’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been the cause of much disquiet among Indian Americans, many of whom have said they have had to bear the brunt of the backlash from Americans, especially lawmakers, casting doubts on their Americanness.

India has become a “toxic word”, a senior lawmaker told an Indian American constituent, who requested not to be identified so as to be able to report the conversation. Another lawmaker asked an Indian American constituent, who also wanted to go unidentified, to look for alternatives to the phrase ‘Indian American’.

India is spoken of in the same breath as China as Russia’s enablers. The US media is closely tracking, and reporting, India’s continuing — albeit escalating — purchases of Russian oil and fertilisers, helping, in the view of Americans, Russia go around crippling sanctions imposed by western countries over the Ukraine invasion.

Sampat Shivangi, co-chair of Americans 4 Hindus, the other host of the summit, acknowledged that many Indian Americans want to switch to Hindu American, but insisted it’s a fierce debate at the moment and not a settled issue.

Though, Shivangi added, he sees not reason for Hindu Americans to not call themselves Hindu Americans like Jewish Americans, who have embraced their religious identity and not countries they came from.

Jewish Americans have long been a model for many Indian Americans, even those that do not want to cut ties to the mother country, for their clout in American politics, which is way disproportionate to their population size.

“We are the most highly educated and wealthiest community in America and we should not be reluctant to call ourselves Hindu Americans,” said Shivangi, arguing Hindus comprise 85 per cent of Indian Americans, who are estimated to be about 4 million. But, he added, he is happy to go with the name Indian American. These are not binary choices for him.

Shivangi is behind the Amrit Mahotsav event that follows the Hindu summit, and said he has commitments of attendance from several Senators and members of the House of Representatives. (IANS)

Indians Continue Their Hold On H-1B Visas

Indians cornered nearly three-fourths of H-1B visas issued by the US to speciality foreign workers in 2021, continuing their stranglehold on this highly sought after professional ticket to work, live and, finally, settle down in America.

The US approved 407,071 H-1B petitions in 2021 and 301,616 of them 74.1 per cent were for Indian workers, according to the latest report on this topic released recently by the Department of Homeland Security, the government agency that oversees immigration.

Indians accounted for 74.9 per cent of the approved petitions in 2020. The US allows American employers to hire speciality foreign workers on H-1B for positions they are unable to fill with local Americans. Top American companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Facebook are among leading users of this visa programme as are US subsidiaries of Indian IT companies such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro.

These foreign workers are hired either from their countries of birth or residence or from US colleges and universities Sundar Pichai, the Google CEO, was hired on H-1B when he was studying in the US. They can live and work here for three years and, if approved, another three years. A large number of them go on to Green Cards permanent residency sponsored by their employers.

Indians have had a tight grip on the H-B visa programme for years, at that three-fourths mark. People from China have been a distant second with 12.1 per cent. The next three were Canada with 0.9 per cent, South Korea also with 0.9 per cent and Philippines with 0.7 per cent. The line-up was the same in 2020, with almost the same numbers.