Republican nominee Donald Trump has called India a “key strategic” and “natural” ally, and promised Indian Americans he would take bilateral ties to a new level if made US president, and boost intelligence sharing in the fight against terrorism.
“No relationship will be more important” and the two countries will be “best friends”, he told an event on Saturday, sponsored by the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) to raise money for victims of terrorism. Started in 2015, the RHC is modelled on the Republican Jewish Coalition, and was launched by Chicago businessman Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar. Trump spoke glowingly of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a “great man” whose “energetic” reforms he would like to emulate — high praise from a candidate known for disparaging rivals.
Though he did not name Pakistan, Trump cited the 2001 Parliament attack and 2008 Mumbai attacks to say India is a victim of cross-border terrorism, and promised to “stand shoulder to shoulder with India in sharing intelligence and keeping our people safe”.
Scoring low in most polls and battling a series of allegations by women claiming he sexually assaulted them, Trump’s rally was a direct pitch to Indian Americans. He even made history of sorts as the first presidential candidate to directly address the small but prosperous community. He began his speech by claiming he was “a big fan of Hindus, and a big fan of India”.
Trump is the only one to have spoken thus far about ties with India in such explicit terms. His Democratic rival Hillary Clinton has used surrogates, such as campaign chairman John Podesta and close associate Neera Tanden, for reaching out to Indian Americans. Trump may not be able to swing Indian Americans his way as the community has historically voted Democrat, but many in the audience said they wanted to give him a chance, a hearing at least. Nevertheless, they cited serious concerns about him, his style and his remarks about Muslims as reasons why they are unlikely to vote for him.
Trump grabbed whatever chance they were willing to offer, focussing on issues that move most Indian Americans — the state of US ties with India, and Modi, who is hero-worshipped by many of them.
Modi has developed a friendly relationship with President Barack Obama, a Democrat who wants Clinton to win the November 8 election.
“India is a key strategic ally,” Trump said, “I look forward to deepening diplomatic and military relationship that is a shared interest of both countries.”
He then called India a “natural ally”, a variation of a phrase first used by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000.
But the partisan nature of Trump’s speech — he repeatedly proclaimed his “love for the Hindus” — tended to cast a shadow on the substance of his speech, that he was promising to scale up ties with India as never before.
A flier handed out at the rally accused Clinton of launching a “Get Modi Policy” to implicate Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots case.
“As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton created her ‘Get Modi Policy’ to falsely accuse Narendra Modi of genocide for 2002 Gujarat riots,” read the flier, photos of which were shared on social media.
The flier depicts Clinton and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi with ram-like horns and borderline hysterical expressions.
Clinton is also shown giving Modi, who has his hands up, the ‘got-you’ gesture. Without citing any evidence, the flier claims that Clinton worked with Gandhi and non-governmental organisations to implicate Modi.