By Amar Shergill, Shristi Thambi, and Neel Sannappa
We are in the final innings of this election season. Democratic political strategists know that it is well past time to put aside intra-party conflicts and intra-community squabbles to focus on defeating Donald Trump. With that in mind, the recent and ongoing behavior of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HAPAC) is startling.
It is commonly accepted and data bears out that 70-85 percent of South Asian and Hindu communities vote Democratic in presidential elections and that the majority of the Republican contingent is moderate, with very few hardcore right-wing partisans. A recently-released study published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace confirmed that 72 percent of registered Indian American voters intend to cast their ballot for Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, while only 22 percent will vote for Trump.
Trump and the Republican Party have made a hard play for Indian-American and Hindu voters because they are voting at increasing rates, particularly in key swing states. Trump attracted some notoriety with rallies alongside Indian Prime Minister Modi that were loaded with photo ops but lacking real policy achievements. However, data reveals that those efforts are not being rewarded by voters.
HAF is the leading non-profit organization in the nation representing the interests of the Hindu American community. HAPAC is its political wing with an overlapping leadership group. Rather than represent their Democratic majority population, the organizations had been seeking a relationship with President Trump in preparation for an endorsement. On September 17, however, they were forced to admit publicly that the Trump outreach had failed and that he refused to work with them.
The right political response to this setback would have been to hail the addition of South Asian Senator Kamala Harris to the national ticket and to organize Hindu voters nationally behind Biden as a signal that Hindu Americans are serious political players. It is an easy argument to make since Indian-Americans are one of the most reliably Democratic constituencies in the country.
Instead, HAPAC made a very public and self-defeating statement that they refuse to endorse Biden. This, despite the Biden campaign having engaged with HAPAC leadership, answering their questionnaire, and inviting them to consult with the Biden campaign team.
It is a glaring political mistake for HAF and HAPAC to push away Biden to focus on India-centric issues and support a regime in India that is, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedoms, engaged in the brutal oppression of marginalized communities, including Hindus. The Carnegie study made clear that Indian-Americans are not motivated by concerns over the US-India relationship, with just 3 percent calling it an important issue to them personally. Indian-Americans, like other voters, care most about the economy (21 percent) and healthcare (20 percent). Unfortunately, HAPAC leaders are glaringly out-of-sync with the super-majority of Hindu voters that are supporting Biden.
Perhaps more than any other moment in recent history, this election demands rational political expertise and purposeful action. The South Asian community deserves leadership that excels at American politics and recognizes the tremendous political will behind the diverse coalition that has come together to defeat Biden. The actions of HAF and HAPAC can only be described as political malpractice. Instead of listening to their constituency and building allies, HAF and HAPAC leaders are doing Trump’s work for him.
Thankfully, other organizations have established grassroots movements to rally the Hindu community behind Biden. South Asians for Biden, in particular, has been representing the community well with energizing videos and well-attended events featuring Hindu and South Asian leaders from across the country.
There are precious few days left to defeat Trump. South Asians, Indian-Americans, and Hindus should spend that time ending his disastrous presidency, not pushing away those fighting alongside us.
Chair, California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus
Executive Board Member of the California Democratic Party
Chicago South Asians for Justice
California Democratic Party State Central Committee Member
Through an email exchange, The Hindu American Foundation has requested a clarification that it is a legally and operationally separate entity from the Hindu American Political Action Committee. The authors accept that this is true.