This US presidential election is serving as a coming out party for the Indian-American community. This is most visible with the thousands of second generation Indian Americans serving as foot-soldiers for the Obama campaign. Says Varun Mehta, president of the Young Americans wing of the US-India Political Action Committee, “Indian-Americans used to talk a lot about politics, sometimes give money but never took the next steps in involvement.This changed with this election.”
Says Indian-American lobbyist Ashok Mago,”there is more excitement about Obama’s candidacy than McCain’s in the community.” Several reasons are given for the tilt to Obama.
The underlying cause is that Indian Americans are largely middle-class professionals and absorb the political stances of the suburbanites they live among. This latter group are fervently pro-Obama. This second generation are also strongly campus oriented. Students are among the most fanatical of Obamaniacs.
This has meant a strong Indian-American presence in Obama’s policy circles and campaign staff. “You can’t swing a dead cat in the Obama camp without hitting an Indian,” jokes one of his advisors. Mohammed Warsi of Washington University-St Louis says, “There is unprecedented excitement among South Asian students because of the symbol Obama represents.” While young Indian Americans have been pounding the pavements and manning the phone banks for Obama, their elders have continued to focus on giving money. Obama’s brilliant fund-raising system have meant this money is pouring in as never before. USINPAC estimates the community gave between $ 8-11 million last election. The figure, say others, may be double this year.
Obama is known to have six or seven Indian-American “bundlers” — senior fund raisers — in his upper ranks. A senior community leader estimated, “Indian-Americans have raised $ 4 million for Obama, $ 2 million for McCain — but this compares to $ 5 million for Hillary.”
It remains to be seen how many will actually vote — the community has a poor record on this front. Mago points out Indian-Americans donated only one per cent of the total campaign expenditure. The commitment is the real difference. Says Mehta, “South Asian students actually took a leave of absence from college to work – that is pretty unprecedented.”