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Indian, Pak. communities make common cause in U.S. election

Indian, Pak. communities make common cause in U.S. election

Anil Kumar, the Democratic congressional candidate for Michigan, who has attracted support from both Indian and Pakistani community members. Photo: Facebook

Rabab Quamar was one of the three volunteers on shift on Monday afternoon, canvassing voters over the phone at the Democratic Party campaign office on the outskirts of the city, which is considered the capital of the global automobile industry.

“I am calling to seek your support for Dr. Anil Kumar for U.S. Congress,” she says at the start of each call, and then goes on to offer specifics about the candidate’s track record and positions. The 20-year-old Pakistani-American spends 40 hours a week working for Mumbai-born Kumar’s campaign.

Tensions have been on the rise between India and Pakistan in recent weeks, but people of Indian and Pakistani-origin in the U.S. have been bonding, perhaps like never before, during a racially charged election season in which both communities share the same anxieties.

First woman President

“The kind of rhetoric that one hears makes me uncomfortable. Some of them are committed Republicans so I let it be. It is just someone’s opinion,” Ms. Quamar says, of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rhetoric that is hard to miss in the campaign. She is excited about the prospects of the first woman winning the U.S. presidency, but adds: “I am not sure whether this election indicates too much of a progressive development in our political system given the divisions it has brought about.”

Considering the divisions exacerbated by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, the inherited and lingering fault lines between India and Pakistan have become less relevant. Ms. Quamar has several Indian-American friends and she is aware of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the ongoing tensions between the two countries, but that is not on top of her mind.

“Yes, we talk about South Asia… but it is more about how we can work together in Dr. Kumar’s campaign, how can South Asian-Americans have a voice in American politics. I have been to various fundraisers where they have spoken about specific political actions for South Asians. In that crowd, we have Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, we have Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims. All together..,” she says.

“There are many like her, working for my campaign,” says Mr. Kumar, who is the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District. A medical doctor and entrepreneur, Mr. Kumar has been endorsed by the Pakistani Caucus.

“We believe we are living in a country, where we need to be united, and need to represent the voice of the minorities. There are 4,000 Pakistani people in my district, all Democrats, and all will vote for me,” adds Mr. Kumar.

Shared goal

“Indian and Pakistani AmericansI will say it’s also a shared responsibility,” says Frank Islam, philanthropist and member of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s national finance team.

The trend is similar across other pockets where South Asian population is concentrated. In New Jersey, a group of Pakistani doctors organised a successful fundraiser for Peter Jacob, Indian- American candidate for Congress, recently and the Pakistani community is solidly behind him. A cooperation between Indian and Pakistani communities is visible in Cleveland, Ohio, as well.

“It does not surprise me that despite escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, the two communities are finding common grounds in this election,” says Sangay Mishra, author of Desis Divided , a book on the political lives of South Asian-Americans.

“There are attempts to frame this election differently among Indian-Americans. There are groups who want to sharpen the religious divide within South Asian community and link the anti-Muslim rhetoric coming out of Trump campaign to anti-Pakistan and pro-Hindu nationalist politics rooted in home country political dynamics.

“However, this approach is not getting much support from within the community and people are less likely to be driven by narrow and exclusive framing of elections rooted in home country politics,” he says, referring to an organisation called the Republican Hindu Coalition that hosted Mr. Trump recently in New Jersey.

Incorrect assumption

Mr. Kumar says people from neither country carry their home politics to America.

“People often incorrectly assume that immigrant communities make their political choices in the U.S. based solely on what is happening back home… the tensions back home between India and Pakistan start becoming less relevant for those communities hereand it is easier for them to find common ground,” adds Mr. Mishra.

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