Pointing to three and a half years of solid economic growth, and his outwardly amicable relationship with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian American Republicans roundly agreed that the U.S. and India would fare better with four more years of President Donald Trump.
“America was doing so well before the pandemic,” Hemant Bhatt, founder and director of the South Asian Republican Coalition, told India-West.
“Trump has supported small businesses and individual families. He is working for America,” said the Indian American political activist, noting that the president’s tax cuts and his “America First” agenda have helped to grow the middle class.
Bhatt pointed to record lows in unemployment levels pre-pandemic. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment rates overall have been on the decline since the 2007-2009 recession. When former President Barack Obama left office in December 2016, unemployment was 4.7 percent. During much of Trump’s first term, unemployment rates have hovered at around 3.8 percent, but jumped up to 14.7 percent in April, as most of the nation sheltered in place.
Bhatt, who also serves on the advisory board of Indian Voices for Trump, said the economy was already rebounding and pointed to the U.S. stock market, which he said was doing well.
He also supported Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the president immediately banned travel from China, and is working to create supply chains which can quickly move a vaccine to market.
Turning to his native land, Bhatt said “Trump has always been a good friend of India and of Modi.” The president greeted Modi last fall at a mega “Howdy Modi” event in Houston, Texas, and earlier this year, made a whirlwind visit to India, traveling to Modi’s home state of Gujarat. “India has benefited by the presidency of Donald Trump,” he told India-West.
He chastised Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris for her views on the revocation of Article 370 last fall, which ended the Kashmir region’s special autonomous status, a status it had held since Independence.
“Kashmiris are not alone in the world. We are keeping track of the situation, and we will intervene if the situation demands,” said Harris at an event in Texas last October on the campaign trail when she herself was a presidential candidate. Harris lent her support to a bill introduced in the House by Indian American Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, which asked India to lift its communications ban in the Kashmir region, and to release more than 2,000 political detainees who were being held without charges.
“The revocation of Article 370 is an internal matter. Kamala Harris should not be involved,” said Bhatt, adding that peace has returned to the Kashmir Valley in recent months and the threat of terrorism has greatly diminished.
His business partner, Pradip ‘Peter’ Kothari, a Republican since 2001 who switched to the Democratic Party in 2017, challenged the oft-repeated notion that Gujarati Americans will vote for Trump because of his affinity to Modi. “There is a lot of discussion in our community that Trump must be re-elected, but Gujaratis are by and large Democrats,” he told India-West.
Modi gave his unofficial endorsement to Trump at the “Howdy Modi” Houston event, proclaiming: “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar,” translated as “This time, it’s Trump’s term.” Kothari said the majority of Indian Americans will nevertheless vote for the Biden-Harris ticket.
AD Amar, founder of Indian Americans for Trump, told India-West he was confident of Trump winning a second term after his Aug. 27 speech on the White House South Lawn on the last evening of the Republican National Convention. “If I had any doubt of a victory, it all washed away that night,” he said, comparing it to Trump’s 2016 speech at the RNC. “He was more mature this time, but he had the same zeal and the same ambition,” said Amar.
The Seton Hall University professor said: “Trump has a lot of respect for Indians and Indian Americans.” He cautioned, however, that a long sought-after U.S.-India trade deal, which has been in the offing for the past 18 months, will not be finalized before the election. “He cannot interfere with negotiations. Democrats would pick that up and rip it apart,” said Amar.
The Indian American also supports Trump’s ban on employment-based visa workers entering the country, including H-1B visa holders and related categories. The president issued his proclamation in April, noting the need to protect American jobs during the pandemic, which had raised unemployment levels as high as 16 percent.
However, unemployment in the tech and health-care sector fell slightly amid the pandemic. NASSCOM, the apex body for the IT industry in India, noted that unemployment levels for IT-related occupations had actually dropped during the pandemic, from 3 percent in January 2020 to 2.5 percent in June 2020. In May, there were 625,000 active job postings for IT-related occupations
Trump has also barred the federal government from hiring H-1B workers, and obliquely made reference to the ban in his prime-time speech, recalling Tennessee Valley Authority employees who were laid off but were forced to train their H-1B replacements.
Amar said both moves were political, to energize Trump’s base. “America cannot run without Indian technological help,” he said. “Trump will have to create long-term policy which supports foreign workers.”
Inderjit Singh Kallirai, who grew up in England, told India-West his first recollection of politics was in 1970, as Conservative Party leader Edward Heath challenged Labour Party leader Harold Wilson, amid a national struggle over race relations, which targeted South Asians.
Kallirai’s uncle told his father to be ready with cash on hand, predicting that — if Heath won — South Asians would immediately be deported from the country. Heath did win, and no one was expelled, said Kallirai. He compared it to the current climate in the U.S., in which immigrants also fear deportation under the Trump administration, but have not been expelled.
The Republican said he supports amnesty for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., and made reference to former President Ronald Reagan, who in 1986 signed a bill granting amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants.
“Our future immigration policy has to depend on our economic policy,” Kallirai told India-West, noting there must be limits as to how many people the country is able to absorb. New guest worker programs, with a finite endpoint, could be created for the agricultural sector which relies heavily on foreign labor for harvesting, said Kallirai, adding that the U.S. also needs the brain power of highly-skilled foreign workers.
Trump’s second term will involve a huge post-pandemic restructuring, impacting all facets of life in the U.S. “Education and employment structures will be changed but we will adapt,” he said.
“We are going to build out of this and we will grow,” said Kallirai.