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Which Way Will The Indo-Americans Go?

The community is more Democrat-inclined
AP

When it comes to the Indian American community, the outcome of the U.S. presidential election on November 6 is a foregone conclusion. Barack Obama, a Democrat, would win by a landslide. Indian Americans, by large numbers, support Democrats over Republicans. This fact was corroborated by a recent National Asian American Survey which found 68 percent of Indian Americans surveyed backed Mr. Obama, while 5 percent said they would vote for his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of political science at the University of California at Riverside, is director of the National Asian American Survey. He says Indian American support for the Democratic Party comes down to three factors: in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton portrayed the party as pro-economic growth and that attracted immigrants; racial profiling against South Asians that followed the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, under a Republican administration drove Indian Americans to the Democratic Party; and the Democratic Party is generally viewed as more tolerant than the Republican Party of different religions and race.

“Given their educational attainment and socio-economic status, you might think that the Republican Party is a potential home for a lot of Indian Americans,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan. Instead, Republican policies on racial discrimination and immigration, and the rise of Christian conservatives within the party, has led many Indian Americans to stay away, he added.

There are some Indian Americans for whom the Republican Party is the obvious choice.

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Ashok Mago, a prominent Indian American based in Dallas, Texas, says he identifies with the Republican Party primarily because of its pro-business policies and unwavering support for the U.S.-India relationship. “You may agree or disagree with the policies of President [George W.] Bush, but what he did for India no president has ever done or will ever do — help to lift the nuclear ban imposed on India,” said Mr. Mago.

Joseph Melookaran, a Republican from Kansas, says Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, are the “clear choice” for voters because of their pro-growth tax and regulatory reform. While Kansas is solidly behind the Republican nominees, the neighbouring state of Missouri “needs some effort,” he said. So, besides hosting political fundraisers, Mr Melookaran is working on “get out the vote” campaigns in Missouri.

Indian Americans are increasingly playing a more personal role in elections. Take for instance the example of Dr. Ami Bera, a Democrat who is running to represent California in the U.S. Congress.

Dr. Bera’s family came to the U.S. from Gujarat in the 1950s. He says his decision to run for office is part of a natural progression within the Indian American community. “The first generation, my parents, put their heads down, worked hard and tried to get some stability for us. For me it was, ‘Get your education, be a doctor or an engineer.’ And I think for the generation coming up now, their horizons are much broader,” he said. “The country really is ready and things are evolving where Indian Americans should be taking a seat at the table,” he added.

Despite the community’s affinity for the Democratic Party, some of the most high-profile Indian Americans in office are Republicans — Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, who are the governors of Louisiana and South Carolina respectively. But, said Mr. Ramakrishnan, many Indian Americans do not see “a Jindal or Haley model as relevant to them because those are two individuals who converted to Christianity, while most Indian Americans are Hindu or Muslim.”

“They are seen as an inspiration for Indian Americans who want to aspire to higher office, but they also show through their examples some of the limitations of what Indian Americans might expect in the political process,” he added.


A shorter, edited version of this appeared in print and also, earlier, in this space

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PLACES: USA
SECTION: International
SUBSECTION: Cover Stories
OUTLOOK: 12 November, 2012
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