Washington, Oct 17 : During the 2016 election campaign around this time, then-candidate Donald Trump addressed a large, glamorous rally of thousands of cheering Hindus – the first time a US presidential candidate reached out to the followers of the faith.
But this time there won’t be such an event.
The Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), which organised the event on October 15, 2016, in New Jersey, is scaling back its campaign for Trump and will not hold events for him unless he gives an assurance on immigration reform, according to its founder Shalabh Kumar.
Kumar told IANS that he and the group’s members would continue to support Trump and urge Hindus to vote for him, but will not hold any campaign events like the one in 2016 which was attended by over 8,000 people.
In the US, electioneering based on religious appeal is legal and common at all levels.
“We are asking all our members to support Trump in their individual capacity to vote for Trump and for Republicans in general,” Kumar said.
“But in terms of major campaign events like what we did in New Jersey and what we did with ‘Apki Baar Trump Sarkar’ commercial which we aired every day, we are waiting for a meeting with the President to clarify his position particularly on the Green Card backlog,” he said.
He asserted that the RHC had about 50,000 members and because the Hindus came from all over the world, their number in the US exceeded that of immigrants coming directly from India and their children.
While the Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden is not carrying out large campaign rallies because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump has been holding them and it should be possible to organise a Hindu event for him.
The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has launched an outreach under its own umbrella called the ‘Hindu Voices for Trump’, as part of a multi-pronged drive that also separately targets Sikhs, Muslims and Indian-Americans in general.
But it has been acting low key, not organising any big campaign events for Hindus and it emphasises religious freedom and economic opportunities.
For the first time, Democrats have also reached out to members of the religion with a “Hindus for Biden” initiative spearheaded by Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the House of Representatives.
In the past, the Democrats’ explicit outreach had been to religions like Islam and Judaism and excluded Hinduism.
Noting the change in the Democratic Party, Kumar quipped: “We have at least made the Hindu word popular.”
He said that as a “very issue-oriented, policy-oriented organisation”, the RHC requires a commitment from Trump on immigration reform and clearing the Green Card backlog, which it considers is important to the community and would ramp up its campaign for him once it is received.
While Trump speaks of merit-based immigration there are about a million people caught up in the Green Card backlog and “they are in great pain”, he said.
The RHC wants a commitment from Trump that he would introduce a system of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that would allow people waiting for five or more years for their Green Cards to indefinitely work and live in the US till their numbers come up for it, he said.
According to Republican Senator Mike Lee’s estimate, the backlog is so bad that for some Indians the wait could take 195 years for a Green Card, which gives permanent immigrant status and puts the recipients in the pipeline to full citizenship.
The EAD would be a bridge to Green Card pending immigration reforms to clear the backlog, Kumar said.
Trump would also have to come out more clearly on the Citizenship Amendment Act that gives expedited Indian citizenship to Christian, Hindu and Buddhist refugees fleeing persecution in Islamic nations in South Asia, and on the Indian government withdrawing the special constitutional status of Kashmir.
In 2016, Kumar said “we had an agreement from Trump” on four issues that the RHC raised “before we endorsed his and went out all the way for him”.
The issues were holding Pakistan accountable for terrorism, the sale of advanced weapons systems to India, the supply of liquid natural gas to India and advancing US-India relations, he said.
Candidate Trump agreed to the conditions and as president he has delivered on them, Kumar said.
That is a reason for the uptick in support among Indian-Americans for Trump, he said.
Regarding the immigration issue, he said: “There is bipartisan support and we want to make sure that that issue gets taken care of, whether Trump gets re-elected, which, of course, we want — I am a hard-core conservative – (and) at the same time looking at the reality on the ground, if Vice President Biden become the president, we want that issue to be taken care of.”