India’s Trump hug pushes Dems away

Ghughuti Bulletin

NEW DELHI: That India has a Democratic Party problem in the US became clear on Thursday when presidential hopeful
Bernie Sanders weighed in on the Delhi riots, targeting the
Modi government and US President
Donald Trump in an equal opportunity tweet.

While the obvious jibe was against Trump, by emphasising that he thought the riots were only aimed against Muslims, Sanders was indirectly criticising the Modi government as well. He is not alone.

Democrat Congressman Joaquin Castro (Texas) added his own criticism. “These deaths in New Delhi are tragic, and the actions of those responsible must be condemned. Support for the
US-India relationship has always been based on our shared values. I urge the Indian government to live up to those values and take decisive action to end further violence,” he tweeted.

Jamie Raskin, a Democrat Congressman from Maryland, tweeted, “Horrified by the deadly violence unfolding in India, all fuelled by religious hatred and fanaticism. Liberal democracies must protect religious freedom and pluralism, and avoid the path of discrimination and bigotry.” He was joined by Don Beyer, Democrat from Virginia, who said, “I condemn attacks against Muslims in India, and reject violence, bigotry and religious intolerance. The US state department should too.”

Even the chairman of the
US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, joined in, “Deeply troubled by the deaths from the communal violence in India over the past couple of days. The right to protest is a key aspect in democracy, but they must remain peaceful and police must ensure the safety of all.”

In the past six months, PM Narendra Modi has shared a political stage with Trump twice, once in the US and this week in Ahmedabad. The question has been asked whether India is making a mistake putting its eggs in the Republican basket, to the detriment of its traditional ties with the Democratic Party.

To say this will not have political implications in a fiercely polarised election year battle in the US will be myopic in the extreme, particularly since Indian-Americans form an influential voting bloc, as do Pakistani-Americans. Therefore, no Democrat politician looking for re-election can afford to ignore events in India, which might sway voters. Indian-Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat, though in recent years, there has been some move towards the Republicans. US political watchers say Trump’s massive rally in Ahmedabad could sway some Indian-American voters, which would be a matter of concern to Democrats.

That said, there is increasingly a section within the so-called “progressive” Democrats who say they find nothing to commend and, therefore, are alienated by Modi’s India. Certainly, after the events of the past six months — from the negation of Article 370 to the citizenship laws — the liberal Democrat opinion has veered away from India, increasingly labelling it with words like “Hindu nationalist”, “fascist” et al. Increasingly too, there is a growing sympathy for global voices against “Islamophobia” and Modi’s India seems to be the perfect example of that.

In addition, the Indian system has made little effort to engage Democrats or the liberal opinion makers, like Ro Khanna, who is Sanders’s foreign policy head. On Capitol Hill too, there is a striking dearth of Indian voices attempting to engage US lawmakers on issues of contention. Meanwhile, a resolution in the House “urging the Republic of India to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents” by India-sceptic Pramila Jayapal has got around 63 co-sponsors.

In a belated attempt to mend fences, last week saw the visit of a bipartisan congressional delegation to India comprising senior Democrat Ami Bera (California) and Republican George Holding (North Carolina). They emphasised the bipartisan nature of US Congressional support for India, but this consensus is clearly failing. Sources in the Indian government said a fresh outreach to the Democrat leadership was being planned, which would be helmed by the newly-appointed ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

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