The 2016 presidential race saw the birth of a powerful Republican Indian-American voting bloc, reversing a long history of Democratic loyalty.
The 2010 Census pegged the U.S. Asian Indian population at over 2.8 million, a ten-year growth of 69 percent that makes this one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the nation.
Republican candidate Donald Trump endeared himself to many Indian Americans with his aggressive posture against radical Islamic terrorism and his warm remarks about India Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "I look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi, who has been very energetic in reforming India's bureaucracy. Great man, I applaud him," Trump said in October 2016.
Aligning himself with Modi was a strategic move. Modi had built a popular brand in the U.S., stressing, over the course of four U.S. visits since he was elected in 2014, that the two nations are the world's largest democracies. In June 2016, Modi met with President Barack Obama for the seventh time and addressed a joint session of Congress.
In the 2012 presidential contest, post-election polling showed that only 16 percent of Indian Americans had voted for Republican Mitt Romney, in keeping with a long tradition of that group's overwhelming support for Democratic candidates.
In August and September 2016, with the election fast approaching, the National Asian American Survey showed only seven percent of Asian Indians self-identified as Republicans, acknowledged voting for Trump in the primaries, or said they would vote for him in the general election. Trump's unfavorable rating among surveyed Asian Indians was 79 percent.
And yet, on November 9, Hindu Americans supported Trump with a resounding, and perhaps pivotal, 65 percent of their votes.
Key to that extraordinary reversal was the coordinated work of the pro-Trump Republican Hindu Coalition (or RHC) and the Hindu-oriented Zee TV cable network. They launched a campaign with the slogan "Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar," or "This Time, A Trump Government," adapted from Modi's winning 2014 slogan, "Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar." Zee produced five related TV ads that its parent company aired 30 times a day for two months on 10 of its U.S. networks, including Zee TV, Z Living, Z Mundo and others.
RHC and Zee TV organized an enormously successful October 15 Bollywood gala in New Jersey, keynoted by Trump, who strongly endorsed Modi's economic model of reforming taxes, land acquisition, labor, banking, investment and subsidies. Trump's "Make America Great Again" theme recalled Modi's "Make in India" and related nation-building initiatives. Trump's promise to build a wall on the Mexican border, which was met with cheers at the Hindu gala, was similar to calls by Hindu nationalists for an India-Bangladesh border wall. Trump underscored his own distaste for government bloat by praising Modi for being "very energetic in reforming India's bureaucracy."
The ad that Zee TV produced from that event was viewed on TV or social media by 87 percent of Hindu American voters. The RHC called it "The Ad That Shook the Hindu World & India and Created History."
This nation's Indian American population and influence continues to grow, assuring that it will play a critical role in shaping U.S. politics and culture in the years ahead.
Sameer Targe is CEO of Zee TV Americas.
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