A stern Hillary Clinton is in the foreground, behind her a globe from which emerges a map of Pakistan. The tone is urgent and alarmist as the narrator says of the Democratic presidential candidate: “Hillary, sympathetic towards Pakistan, gave billions of dollars in aid and military equipment used against India. She was instrumental in blocking PM Modi’s visa.”
This is the beginning of a 30-second advertisement created by the Republican Hindu Coalition titled Crooked Clinton – Vote for Republican, Vote for US-India Relations, which aired on Indian television channels in the US ahead of the Presidential election on November 8. The ad urges Indian Americans to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Hinging on the ultra-nationalist and anti-Pakistan rhetoric being seen in India after the surgical strikes across the Line of Control on September 28, the ad has an Islamophobic tenor and uses fear-mongering as the main weapon to get Indian Americans to vote for Trump.
“(Hillary) takes contributions from countries and individuals known to support radical Islam,” the ad says. "Her current aide Huma Abedin is of Pakistani origin and will become chief of staff if she wins. Her husband, Bill Clinton, wants to give Kashmir to Pakistan.”
The ad concludes by calling on people to “vote Republican” because it would be “great for you, great for US-Indian relations, and great for America.”
This is one of several efforts being made by Trump and the Republican Hindu Coalition to reach out to Indian-American voters, one of the largest and wealthiest ethnic groups in the US.
In October-end, another advertisement showed the Republican nominee saying “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkaar” – this time, a Trump government – fashioned on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan for the 2014 Parliamentary elections.
Earlier that month, on October 15, Trump addressed about 5,000 Hindu Americans in New Jersey at an event organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition. In his speech, Trump had said that India and America would be “best friends” if he was elected President.
Of the more than three million Indian Americans in the US, as of 2012, about half identified themselves as Hindu, according to Pew research. Indian-Americans have traditionally favoured Democrats. Earlier this year, three organisations – Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Data – surveyed Asian Americans to see how they would vote in the Presidential elections. About 60% of Indian Americans said they viewed Republicans unfavourably. However, a growing number of Hindu nationalists have been seen supporting Trump, in part because of his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Not a unanimous choice
The emergence of various Hindu outfits in the US – the Republic Hindu Coalition, the Hindu Democrats in the past, and the Hindu American Foundation – is a reflection of the diversity, even divergence in political thought that exists among Hindu and Indian Americans. Not all of them have been as vocal in their support of Trump.
The Hindu American Foundation, whose vision is to promote “dignity, mutual respect and pluralism”, condemned the latest ad vilifying Clinton and Abedin. “The insinuation that ethnic or any background alone is a reason to discredit someone or attribute support of something is wrong. The policies and actions of candidates and the staff they surround themselves with should be, and are fair game,” said Suhag Shukla, the group’s Executive Director, in an email to Scroll.in. “While the potential foreign policy decisions of any of the presidential candidates are rightfully of deep concern to many Hindu Americans, personal attacks such as those made in the recent ads are simply beyond the pale.”
She also pointed to instances in the past where far too many Hindu and Indian American Congressional candidates – including Tulsi Gabbard, Ashwin Madia, Satveer Chaudhary, Neil Makheja and others – have had their Americanness, fitness to serve, or values questioned because of their ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Shukla said that a candidate’s stance on Pakistan would influence the vote of many Hindu Americans, but that would not be the only factor. “That Pakistan’s continued sectarian violence; flagrant violation of human rights; engagement in and support of cross-border terrorism; and proxy war in Kashmir all threaten the stability and prosperity of the region is a reality,” she said. “But again, the stated policies and action, not ethnic or religious identity, are the factors that should be studied before casting a vote.”