Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice-president, was depicted as Durga in a visual tweeted by a relative on the first day of Navratri. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s face was superimposed on lion’s, with a snarl; and President Donald Trump was shown as Mahishasura, laying at their feet with a trishul to his throat.
It was pulled down without any explanation, but not before it had marked a milestone in the growing currency of the Hindu card in United States (US) electoral politics. A day before, Biden and Harris had tweeted Navratri greetings, and there were greetings before that on Ganesh Chaturthi and Mahalaya. Together, these messages marked quite a departure from norm for a country whose politicians were still getting used to Diwali.
The Biden campaign has fostered, for instance, a group of supporters and surrogates that calls itself Hindu-Americans for Biden. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the two-term Congressman from Illinois state, headlined its launch in September, saying there were two million Hindus in the country who could play a vital role in the battleground states that will determine the 2020 election. Possibly, but not all of whom could vote; there are only an estimated 1.9 million (1.8 million, by another count) eligible Indian- American voters and not all of them are Hindus. Among modern-day American politicians at the national level, President Donald Trump was the first to openly play the Hindu card when, as a candidate for the White House in 2016, he said, addressing Indian Americans at an election rally, “We love the Hindus, we love India” and “I am a big fan of Hindu, and I am a big fan of India”.
He also promised that the Indian and Hindu community will have a “true friend” in the White House if he was elected. Trump won, of course, but it remains unclear if the Hindu card played any role. Only 16% of Indian Americans — Hindus comprise a large chunk of them, but not all — had said (in an AAPI Data survey 2016) that they had voted for him in a post-election survey of the community; 77% had voted for Hillary Clinton. But the Hindu card had debuted.
Some Indian Americans consider the Howdy Modi rally in Houston as the second defining factor. But from Trump’s perspective, it was not so much a play for Hindus as Indian-American voters; he never once uttered the word Hindus.
A far more important and significant outreach, and an unintended one, was perhaps Trump’s silence on the change of the constitutional status of Kashmir and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which cut closer to the bone for many Hindu-Americans (as also Indian Americans) who saw it as a sovereignty issue for India. Even those who supported Biden pressed the nominee and the campaign to match the position.
Many in the community believe it’s a good thing for them to identify themselves as Hindus, as long as it does not assume exclusionary overtones. But irrespective of how it plays out, the arrival of the Hindu card in American politics merits note back home.
The views expressed are personal