How one Indian-American family mirrors divide in US elections

  • Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times, Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Updated: Mar 01, 2016 21:33 IST
Indian-American Mugimane Manjanatha and his wifeShalini Manjanatha. While Mugimane backs Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Shalini is a die-hard Hillary Clinton supporter. (Anirudh Bhattacharyya/HT Photo)

As the US heads into one of its most divisive and acrimonious presidential elections ever, meet the Manjanatha family with its four members and possibly three different political affiliations.

Little Rock-based toxicologist Mugimane Manjanatha supports Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primary, as does his daughter. His wife Shalini Manjanatha, a statistician, is committed to Hillary Clinton, and their son, she says, “I’m not sure, but we’re thinking he may be a (Donald) Trump supporter.”

The Manjanathas moved to Little Rock in 1990 and Shalini worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, as she used the autopen to sign mailers for him. That loyalty persists, as she said: “Buy one, get one free. Bill was a great President and he’s there to help Hillary with policy.”

She also points to the “lots of experience” Hillary Clinton has, from being First Lady to a Senator and then Secretary of State.

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Her husband, though, isn’t impressed. “Hillary speaks from both ends of her mouth.”

Plenty of Sanders’ positions appeal to Mugimane and among them is his promise to eliminate college tuitions. As two of his children have gone to US universities, he said, “I know how much it costs parents. They should be able to get their degrees without busting their parents’ bank account.”

Like the majority of Indian-Americans, the Manjanathas are Democrats. However, in a deeply Republican state like Arkansas, the usual 70:30 ratio of support for Democrats is not necessarily the case.

Shashwat Goyal, a businessman in commercial real estate, is one of the founders of the Arkansas Indian American Political Action Committee or ARIAPAC, a non-partisan outfit.

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He said, “I would suggest it’s pretty much 50:50. You see this in the South, where they are a little less liberal as compared to some other states, plus the environment plays a big role.”

There’s certainly a clear divide in the Manjanatha household and while they do “argue” over politics, their arguments are amicable unlike those seen in the country at large.

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