Indian Americans are engaged in a twin battle these days. One, the obvious fightback against the Covid-19 pandemic and the other is more a political dilemma about who to vote for this time—Donald Trump or Joe Biden—for the White House in January 2021.
The poll surveys about his job approval ratings are a buzzing point among the diaspora. The mood signalled out of bear hug diplomacy at Motera in Ahmedabad and then in New Delhi may not be the same as the near one million India American voters go to polls for their next President in November. Many have started shifting the blame on Trump for corona infections and fatalities, both being highest in the world, and weighing if Biden would be a good bet for Indian diaspora and Indo-US relations.
Frank Islam, a Democrat supporter and a top Indian American community member, said “President Trump’s handling of the corona pandemic is nothing short of a disaster.” Islam told The Sunday Guardian: “The US, which spends more money on healthcare than any other country in the world, leads the world in both infections and fatalities. At every level, leaders prove their mettle during a crisis. This is especially true of American Presidents. In the first three years of his presidency, Trump didn’t have to face any real challenges, except the ones he created. President Obama had handed him a strong economy and a relatively stable world. Coronavirus is the first real test Trump has faced. He has failed it.”
However, Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO of US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) feels it is still not a lost battle for Trump. “A lot can happen between now and November elections,” Aghi told The Sunday Guardian, adding, “the current crisis is definitely a challenge for the administration, the US and of the world. In every society, the popularity of leaders has shifted—both positive and negative. PM Narendra Modi’s approval rating has gone up to 93% while President Trump’s rating has suffered. US elections are still six months away.”
The US is also witnessing something interesting—brewing anti-China nationalism cutting across party lines, which gives Trump a slim chance to bounce back. Love him or hate him, and despite the entire US media against him, he is building on his anti-China bloc and many nations, which hitherto shared his views and endorsed his whims, are coming on board with him. This will be something interesting to see in the months to come as many political pundits are waiting to see the end result of the economic stimulus package by President Trump along with his anti-China tirade. Will the two work in his favour?
Aghi says, “The China problem is not just the Trump’s problem—it is a global problem. A regime which is not transparent, stringent, and punishes bearers of bad news will struggle in the long term. China, for the first time since 1979, is facing both an internal crisis and pressures from the global community due to a lack of transparency in regards to the way the pandemic has been handled. The sentiment in the US is that China needs to be accountable and any leader who takes a firm stance against China will be popular.” That means Trump stands a chance to come back on an anti-China bogey!
On the economic stimulus package bearing fruits is difficult to predict given the health crisis America is involved in. Aghi says that vaccine availability is key for America. “The current crisis is deep and wide. It is not just an issue of demand but of supply and more importantly, concerns health. An inherent fear of the virus has crept into people’s mind—that unseen mortal threat will continuously define and decide our actions. Minimum activities and risk aversion will continue until a successful vaccine is available worldwide. Until then economies will suffer and social unrest will escalate. Therefore, stimulus package has a minimal impact on the economy.”
On the Biden factor building in the background, there is some worry still for Trump. Islam feels that Trump will start losing the public glare once Biden comes in the picture physically after the lockdown restrictions are lifted fully and movement is allowed without the fear of virus.
Aghi echoes Islam when he says, “I believe Biden is waiting for some sense of normalcy to return so he can leverage endorsements and convey his message. He has been appearing almost daily in talk shows, news conferences, and radio. Latest nationwide polls show that he has a 10-point advantage over the President.”
Some like Ajay Bhutoria, a techie and a philanthropist from Silicon Valley and a strong Democrat fund raiser, says, “Biden has an edge over Trump for the latter’s failed handling of the corona pandemic.”
Bhutoria says, “The Trump administration’s abject failure to quickly develop and deploy a workable test resulted in a lost month. Months later, testing remains far below where it needs to be in many parts of the country, and Trump and his administration have been unwilling and unable to get Governors the material and support they need to increase capacity and get tests and rapid results to healthcare workers, first responders, essential employees, and the sick.”
He added to support Biden’s prospects saying, “Vice President Biden knows that the federal government needs to step up to help those on the front lines of this fight and get our country moving and healthy again, that’s why Biden has called for the creation of a Pandemic Testing Board to coordinate national efforts, and that’s why he’s demanded that Trump finally fully implement the Defense Production Act to ensure that states get the supplies they need to fight the coronavirus.”
But who is good for India? Indian Americans battle this dilemma. Islam says, “India doesn’t need to worry about a Biden presidency. The Democrat has worked with Indian officials for more than a quarter century, first as an influential member and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then as Obama’s Vice President.” To Islam, Biden is the best answer for India and Indian-Americans. He said: “In truth, it is hard to imagine the pandemic becoming so destructive, both in terms of lives and livelihoods, under any of the modern Presidents, Republican or Democrat. The two biggest challenges for the next President would be to fix the battered economy and a healthcare system that needs massive revamping. The last two Democrats to occupy the Oval Office inherited terrible economies from their Republican predecessors, and both put America back on the growth track. The last time the economy was turned around, Biden was at President Obama’s side and an integral part of the core team that spearheaded the resurgence. He was also part of the overhauling of the American healthcare system through Obamacare…he has the experience and track record to put America back on rails.”
Aghi puts it frankly. “India has a bipartisan support from the Congress. The business community is in ABC mode. Anything But China. This is an important opportunity for India to reach out to corporate America and convince them why they are the market that everyone should be betting on. The current tension between the United States and China puts India in a far better position with the US, hence, geo-politically both nations are aligned far more today than ever before.”
Weighing who can still be the best bridge between India and Indian Americans, the diaspora is keeping its cards close to the chest. Only time will tell which side the diaspora vote tide turns!