If Biden is Democratic candidate, he will keep majority of Indian Americans in Democratic camp. If Sanders is candidate, many Indian Americans will move to the Republican side: Frank Islam


Although the coronavirus pandemic and its “justified” scare has gripped the United States, but the US Presidential elections promise to be the most exciting ever and a tight-finish contest promising to go any way from here. Indian Americans are watching it closely as a lot is at stake, with businesses, the new surge in Indo-US relations and the prospect of India getting a due in US diplomacy, finally. With whom does that promise rest—Donald Trump or Joe Biden? This is what is keeping someone like Frank F. Islam, an investor, philanthropist and a top name in the Indian American community deeply involved in the 2020 US polls.

A die-hard Democrat supporter, a famous fund-raiser for the Clintons, Obama and Democrats, but an Indian first, Frank Islam weighs the options for Indian Americans and Indo-US relations first. He admits that with Joe Biden as the top Democrat candidate, there is hope for Indian Americans and that’s making the Presidential contest a “tight contest” between Vice President Biden and President Donald Trump. “If Sanders is the candidate, I believe many Indian Americans will move over to the Republican side of the aisle,” Islam told The Sunday Guardian. Excerpts:

Q: It will be Trump vs Biden by all counts till now.  How intense it will be?

A: It will be extremely intense as all presidential contests are. Because of President Trump’s personality, however, it will also be very ugly. In psychological terms, most people move along a continuum between fight to fight depending on the issue. Because of the way his father reared him, Trump only fights.

He also engages in personal attacks on his opponents, making derogatory and demeaning statements regarding them. This reduces the civility of the conversation. Regardless of whether Trump’s opponent is Biden or Bernie Sanders, the contest will be exhausting for those citizens, who would like to see the election debate be about policy positions rather than rhetorical assaults on an opponent.

Q: How much Indian American support will he get?

A: That is obviously very hard to predict and will be affected by what happens that is relevant to the Indian American community between now and the election day on 3 November. Various analyses show that Trump got somewhere between 16-20% of the Indian American vote in the 2016 elections.

Because of his participation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Howdy, Modi! event in Houston when Modi came to the US in September 2019 and his recent Namaste, Trump visit to India along with his appeals to the Hindu majority and the BJP supporters, at this point in time, his support should be higher this election cycle. I will leave the estimation of the percentage support that Trump will receive to people who engage in this type of prognostication for a living.

Q: What issues will he be carrying as poll plank and are there vital Indian Americans’ issues linked to that?

A: It is my understanding that Trump’s campaign slogans this time around will be “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept”. Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward America First. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasising building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are stealing American trade secrets.

What all of this bodes for India American issues is hard to tell. One need only look at how difficult it has been to try to get any meaningful trade agreement between the US and India and you can see the ramifications and the nominal results of that effort speaks volumes.

There is a lot going on in the superficial level between India and the US, but substantively there appears to be little accomplished. The Trump approach to appealing to Indian Americans is demonstrated by the fact that his campaign recently put up a Facebook advertisement of him and his wife Melania visiting the Taj Mahal during his visit to India. What can also be expected is that Trump will never comment on the Kashmir situation or the controversial new Citizenship Amendment Act, saying that is up to India alone to decide how to handle it.

Q: Will the pace of new Indo-US relations get affected with Joe Biden in White House as earlier Presidents have tried to balance out things between India and Pakistan and also while taking up the Kashmir issue, which India, irrespective of any leadership, claims is a bilateral issue?

A: If one looks back in time at the US Presidents, in my opinion, India as a nation and democracy fared the best with Eisenhower, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. And, I believe India would have fared better with Hillary Clinton as President as opposed to the two steps forward one-step back relationship it has had with the Trump administration.

If Joe Biden is President, I would expect him to work to make the US-India relationship, as Barack Obama labelled it one of the “defining partnerships of the 21st century”. This would mean establishing strong bilateral ties between the two countries. It would not stop Biden, on the other hand, from speaking out on issues such as Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act. Interestingly, I should add here that when he was a Senator in 2008, Biden voted for the nuclear agreement with India and Bernie Sanders did not.

Q: What are areas of strong Indian American support for the Democrats?

A: Historically, the Democrats have garnered the bulk of support from Indian Americans. I believe that is because of the Democratic Party’s support for immigration, religious tolerance, inclusiveness, and commitment to advancement up the economic ladder for all. Criticism by Indian Americans in Congress of Modi’s actions in Kashmir and as I mentioned earlier, Trump’s reaching out to Hindus have probably lessened that support.

The Democrats are still the big tent party embracing diversity and upward mobility. That may not be as important this time around as it has been in the past. If Biden is the Democratic candidate for President, I think he will keep the majority of Indian Americans in the Democratic camp. If Sanders is the candidate, I believe many Indian Americans will move over to the Republican side of the aisle.