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Political influence of Indian diaspora in focus

A file photo of the audience at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Texas. The ‘Namaste Trump’ event is almost similar in nature. (Photo: Reuters)Premium
A file photo of the audience at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Texas. The ‘Namaste Trump’ event is almost similar in nature. (Photo: Reuters)

  • The political, economic muscle wielded by Indian Americans will be on Trump’s mind at ‘Namaste Modi’ event
  • India was the world’s top recipient of remittances in 2018 with its diaspora sending a whopping $79 billion back home, as per World Bank data

On 31 January, Arvind Krishna became a talking point in offices, coffee bars, inside Metro trains, and ubiquitous tea points adjacent to office buildings in Indian mega cities soon after he was named the new chief executive of International Business Machines Corp. (IBM). Days after Krishna’s elevation, WeWork roped in Sandeep Mathrani as its new chief executive.

Krishna and Mathrani have joined a galaxy of Indian Americans including Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Sundar Pichai (Google), Shantanu Narayen (Adobe), Punit Renjen (Deloitte), and Nikesh Arora (Palo Alto Networks) to head American corporations and amplify what the Indian diaspora brings to the high table in America, and what constitutes India’s soft power. In India, they are not mere news headlines but representative of India’s soft power in the US with capacity to influence views about brand India in political, corporate and public discourse.

Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint
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Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint

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When US President Donald Trump goes to attend the ‘Namaste Trump’ event in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, this will be in his mind, more so in an election year where the political and economic muscle of 4.4 million Indian Americans will have an influence. Indian American Tulsi Gabbard is also a presidential candidate hopeful in the US.

“Mr. Trump, like Mr. Modi, is a people’s politician, and he is going to showcase his global popularity to his domestic audience coming on the heels of his being acquitted of impeachment in the US senate," Sanjay Puri, chairman of Washington-based US-India Political Action Committee (USIPAC) said in an email interview. USIPAC is a non-profit political organization representing the interests of Indian Americans.

“Three of the biggest US tech companies are headed by Indian Americans and there is a growing number of leaders in pharma/health/financial services in the US. It shows the talent that exists in the Indian American community, and how they are succeeding and giving back to the US, and India," added Puri, underlining how the diaspora has been working as a bridge between both the nations.

India was the world’s top recipient of remittances in 2018 with its diaspora sending a whopping $79 billion back home, as per World Bank data. India was followed by China ($67 billion), Mexico ($36 billion), the Philippines ($34 billion), and Egypt ($29 billion). Though exact remittances from the US is not known, Indian diaspora in the US constitute a mere 12% of its global diaspora base.

Howdy Modi vs Namaste Trump

Puri, an entrepreneur and investor, said the ‘Namaste Trump’ and ‘Howdy Modi’ events are almost similar in nature and the diaspora is amazed at the visibility and recognition that India and PM Modi received in both the events.

“President Trump’s Gujarat visit has a direct connection with the diaspora audience in an election season. Like Howdy Modi, Namaste Trump event has a clear political undertone. It’s not just PM Modi bringing President Trump to Ahmedabad; it should also be viewed as Trump coming to Gujarat. It reflects cultural diplomacy, political diplomacy and underlines the significance of Indian soft power in Indo-US relationship. Besides, the Motera stadium event will bring in a lot of positivity for the Indian American community and how the world views India," said Santosh Patra, an associate professor at MICA, Ahmedabad.

Since 2014, Modi has done three key engagements with the Indian diaspora in the US—at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the SAP Center at San Jose, California and the most recent ‘Howdy Modi’ at Houston. While the first two saw 20,000 attendances each, the third one saw a diaspora gathering of around 50,000.

And at Ahmedabad, over 70,000 people are expected to attend the ‘Namaste Trump’ event and several thousands more on his way to the event venue that will be dotted with cultural extravaganza to showcase the cultural heritage of India. The government is erecting 28 stages to showcase India’s diversity and will also display various events in the life of Gandhiji for Trump’s India roadshow.

The student linkage

Education linkages between India and the US are one of the strongest in the world, and any discourse around Indian diaspora is incomplete without talking about students. From just one student in 1883, US universities now house more than 200,000 Indian students. Indian students who went to the US for higher education contributed over $8 billion in 2018-19 to the US economy.

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