Donald Trump declares Modi support, drags India into US electoral minefield

New York: President Donald Trump has dragged India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi into a possible minefield of US politics by asserting that India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi give him “great support” in the context of the US elections where foreign involvement is a sore point.

“We have great support from India, we have great support from Prime Minister Modi, and I would think that the people, the Indian people would be voting for Trump,” he said on Friday when asked about the Indian American vote.

A reporter referred to a video “Four More Years” targeting Indian Americans that was released during the Republican National Convention and was retweeted by his eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., and asked if the community would vote for him.

“I do,” Trump said. “We had an event in Houston, as you know, and it was a fantastic event. I was invited by Prime Minister Modi, this was massive, this was where they play football, Houston football team, It was incredible. It was actually incredible. The prime minister could not have been more generous.”

He then made the assertion about support from India and Modi, which could be controversial given the allegations of foreign interference in the November presidential elections.

Democrats have said that Russia was backing Trump and the Republicans have said that China was backing the Democratic Party’s candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The concept for the video, “Four More Years,” credited to Al Mason, the co-chair of the Trump Victory Indian American Finance Committee is subtle by using clips of Modi praising Trump at the “Howdy Modi” rally of about 50,000 Indian Americans in Houston last year and Trump praising Indian Americans and India, and saying the US will always be a “loyal and faithful friend to the Indian people” at the “Namaste Trump” rally in Ahmedabad in February.

However, Trump’s assertion at the Friday news conference of backing from Modi and India was more forthright and implies direct support from them for Trump in the elections which could complicate relations with the Democrats.

Indian Americans have traditionally been a bastion of the Democratic Party.

The Pew Research Centre has found that 65 per cent of Indian Americans are Democrats or lean towards the party.

According to Karthick Ramakrishnan, the director of the Asian American Pacific Islander Data which produces political research about those communities, 77 per cent of Indian Americans voted for the Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton and only 16 per cent for Trump in the 2016 election.

But Ramakrishnan told a National Public Radio interviewer in February, “My hunch is that there’s probably some movement towards President Trump but still overwhelming support for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates as opposed to President Trump.”

Indian American voters could play a role in the battleground states — the swing states where neither party has an overwhelming majority and could go either way.

The reporter asked Trump if his eldest son and daughter Ivanka Trump would campaign for him among Indian Americans in the battleground states this year.

Trump replied, “They’re very good young people. And I know their relationship to India is very good and so is mine. And Prime Minister Modi is a friend of mine and he has done a very good job. Nothing easy, nothing easy, but he is doing a very good job.”

He added, “They think a lot of India and so do I, and I think a lot of your prime minister.”

He said, “What we saw (during the February India visit), the people are so incredible. It is really an incredible place and incredible country. And it is definitely big, it is definitely big. But you have got a great leader and he is a great person.”

While defending his response to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that India has “done a good job” of testing for the disease, carrying out the second-highest number of tests in the world, ranking behind the US.

In 2016, the Trump campaign made special efforts to reach out to Hindu voters. Communal and religious appeals are legal in the US and both parties resort to them, although it was the first time a presidential candidate campaigned for Hindu votes.

Trump addressed a rally organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition and his son Eric visited a Hindu temple in Florida.

A video of Trump welcoming a sari-clad Indian software developer to the “great American family of citizens” during a citizenship ceremony at the White House was shown at last month’s Republican Convention to show his support for legal immigrants.

However, in his address to the convention he highlighted action against employing H1-B workers at a government-owned energy conglomerate. Indians get the majority H1-B visas, given to professionals and specialised workers and efforts to curtail them are met with criticism from India.

The convention also showed a video in which Trump presented as a “hostage” an American missionary caught by his own admission in India committing currency violations. Even though he was given due process with the Indian judiciary and released, Trump had him presented alongside victims of countries like Iran and Syria.

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