Editor's Note: The recent spate of racially-motivated attacks against Indians in the US has raised several troubling questions. The principal among these produced by heightened xenophobia; go back to your country. Firstpost set out to interrogate the messy, complex and dislocated experience of being Indian in America; is this my country? The series that resulted, Homeland, is a compendium of interviews, analyses and opinion pieces.
In this, the third part, read about the Republican Hindu Coalition and the schism between Indian-Americans who find community amongst other South Asians, across class and ethnic boundaries, and those who choose to insulate themselves.
In October 2016, a political ad made the rounds on the Internet. The ad featured then-candidate Donald Trump looking at the camera, parroting the infamous Modi catchphrase in stunted Hindi: “Ab Ki Baar, Trump Sarkar.”
In October, Trump was the guest of honor at a Bollywood-themed event. He spent about three minutes helping light a diya while the song “Proud to be an American” blared in the background. And then he got into it. He spent fifteen minutes decrying “radical Islamic terror” while apparently conflating the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and the 2008 Mumbai attacks, touting deregulation while in another breath bragging about his “massive developments in India,” and claiming that China stole $360 billion worth of US intellectual property while also claiming that US-China relations would be “great” under a Trump administration.
A ring of counter-protest took place around the theater. And yet another ring of mostly white Trump supporters surrounded the South Asian anti-Trump demonstrators, hurling racial slurs at them.
The organisation behind the ad and this event is the Republican Hindu Coalition, modeled after the Republican Jewish Coalition. The coalition intends to build political capital for the “Hindu-American community.” The mastermind of this coalition is Shalabh Kumar, a self-identified Hindu-American industrialist. The coalition has attempted to strike a narrow path between anti-Muslim nationalism, libertarian limited government, and US protectionism. Clearly, Trump hit a vein by pledging support for skilled immigrants (even as he had vowed to limit the H1-B visa program during the primaries) and by pledging open season on Muslim-Americans.
To outsiders, and certainly to many white Trump supporters, this might seem strange. I’d argue that there’s a schism between Indian-Americans who find community amongst other South Asians, across class and ethnic boundaries, and those who choose to insulate themselves, cherry-picking ideologies that further ensconce them in their small circles. In addition to a fixed debt ceiling and limited government intervention, the RHC platform includes social mandates like opposition to abortion. At this point, the so-called Hindu grassroots is completely lost to GOP pandering.
Now let’s speak a little bit about Shalabh Kumar’s motives for assembling this “grassroots” coalition. Kumar was a big donor to the Trump campaign. This coalition has clearly been used to curry favor with this administration. It was intended to be a bridge between Republican Hindu-Americans and the Republican Party Leadership. Kumar is “a member of transition finance & innauguration (sic) committees,” which recommends people to serve in Trump administration.