As Election Day in the US gets closer, all media – be it print, social or broadcast, is erupting with op-eds and inflammatory articles regarding both Presidential candidates. Particularly amusing were social media cartoon spoofs during Dassera depicting Hillary as Rama and Trump as Ravana. This election is unprecedented and for comparison purposes, is as iconic as the last general election in India where Indians were deciding on a monumental change and willing to take a risk. However, the risk in this country and for the world at large is scary and could backfire if the volatile Republican candidate wins the election. There has been a concerted effort by rational minds to get people to see the dangers of electing Trump, but minds have been made up. The focus now is on converting the undecided and fringe voters to vote Blue and not Red.
One of Trump’s key topics is immigration with a focus on Hispanic immigrants. However, they are not the only ones who make up the immigrant backbone of this country and increasingly, immigrants such as South Asians, who were predominantly Republicans, have shifted allegiance to the Democratic Party. In fact, South Asians born and raised in this country are overwhelmingly Democratic. Among Indian Americans, 70 per cent are Democrats, a far cry from the generation of Indians who came to this country in the 60s and always voted Republican.
Given this trend, many Indian Americans were not amused at a rally held in Edison, New Jersey last weekend, by Republicans in favour of Trump. It was a colourful event with Bollywood stars such as Prabhudeva, Malaika Arora Khan and Sophie Chaudhary performing. Dancers were dressed in glittering red, white and blue outfits. Trump magnanimously declared he is a big fan of ‘Hindu”. Really? Who is this Hindu? Does he even know we are known as Indians and not Hindu? India has one of the largest population of Muslims and all Indians cannot be called Hindu! Indians who do support Trump gravitate toward him because of his strong anti-terror talk given India’s proximity to the hot bed of terrorism and the constantly simmering tension with Pakistan.
Influencers have pointed out how Trump will not actually be good for India and will not hasten any immigration process for Indians. His anti-Muslim rhetoric does not automatically make him pro-Hindu. It is unfortunate the pro-Trump groups in the US are fundamentalist Hindu groups. India’s leader himself is a man who is no stranger to controversy and for his followers seen to be aligning themselves with an unpopular candidate is a red flag. It is dangerous territory especially given Trump’s admiration of controversial leaders such as Putin and Kim Jong-Un. Interestingly, many of the people who attended the event had no clue about the political agenda and had assumed they were attending a charity show.
Talking about shows and with Diwali around the corner, Indians in the US have already begun celebrating. Times Square has been a popular venue and saw an eight-hour Diwali extravaganza this past weekend with food, entertainment and crowds of Indians thronging the already crowded location. A life-size Air-India Maharaja greeted everyone with a Namaste and there were performances by lesser known Bollywood stars as well as a human pyramid in the middle of the Square.
Diwali in the US this year takes on an even more special note given the United States Postal Service (USPS) finally succumbed to mounting pressure from Indian groups and released a stamp on October 5, commemorating Diwali. Considering there are stamps for Xmas, Hanukah and even Eid, focus groups have been trying to get USPS to create a Diwali stamp for over twenty-five years. The lobbying and persistence finally paid off. There was an official release at the Indian embassy in New York City with Carolyn Maloney in attendance. She is a prominent NYC congresswoman who was key in getting USPS to release the stamp. A change of guard in the USPS with a new woman, Megan Brennan, as Postmaster General, is what finally turned the tide in favour of the stamp. Popular Indian American organisation, Indiaspora, held a reception in New York City to celebrate the Diwali stamp. Held at Vermilion on Lexington Avenue, it was attended by many New York City based Indian Americans and was a fun way to kickstart Diwali celebrations in the city.
Now if only Diwali celebrations could extend post Diwali to include a Democratic victory, the new Vikram Samvat year 2073, will have started off on an auspicious note.