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One Group Whose Political Leanings May Be Changing: Indian Americans Who Are Hindu


President Trump leaves this weekend for India, where he's set to get a warm welcome from the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi. The visit is likely to be followed closely by Indian Americans, especially those who consider themselves Hindu. Many American Hindus are big supporters of Prime Minister Modi, in part, because of his embrace of Hindu nationalism. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Indian Americans, about half of whom are Hindus, are the second-largest immigrant group in the U.S. after Mexicans. In 2016, fewer than 20% of Indian Americans supported Donald Trump, but Republicans think they can get a bigger share this year. One reason - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a big Trump fan.


PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: A great American president, Mr. Donald Trump.

GJELTEN: Modi and Trump bonded at a big Indian American rally last fall in Houston.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I can tell you you have never had a better friend as president than President Donald Trump. That I can tell you.

GJELTEN: With Trump now set to visit Modi in India, that friendship will get even more attention. Trump has made no criticism of Modi's drive to give Hindus a favored place in India, for example, by promoting a citizenship law that treats Hindu and Muslim refugees differently. Democrats and some progressive Indian Americans have criticized Modi over that campaign, but more conservative American Hindus endorse it.

RAKHI ISRANI: I mean, these are highly emotional topics for Hindu Americans.

GJELTEN: Rakhi Israni (ph) runs an education tutoring firm in California and serves on the board of the Hindu American Political Action Committee.

ISRANI: And the stance that a lot of the liberal left within the Democratic Party is taking, I think they may just serve to push more Hindu Americans away from the party.

GJELTEN: Among those who think there is a Hindu American drift toward Republicans is A.D. Amar, a management professor at Seton Hall University. He leads the Indian Americans for Trump movement, but his focus is on Trump's economic policies, ones he says can resonate with Indian Americans.

A D AMAR: Most Indians, as you know, are highly educated. They are also relatively quite well-off, and they want low taxes, and they want people to be responsible for their own lives.

GJELTEN: In his speech in Houston, President Trump took care to distinguish between successful Indian immigrants and those coming into the country illegally. But Karthick Ramakrishnan, who directs the Asian American Voters Survey at the University of California, says many Indian Americans still identify with other minority groups, especially at a time of rising white nationalism.

KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN: Not only are they immigrants, but also, they are brown-skinned, often in minority religions and discriminated in society in various ways. So, yes, people could try to drive a wedge between Indian Americans and other immigrant communities, but the reality of racial discrimination in the United States makes it more difficult.

GJELTEN: Ramakrishnan thinks Indian American voters, including American Hindus, focus mostly on such traditional policy issues as access to health care, ones that incline them more toward the Democrats.

RAMAKRISHNAN: My hunch is that there's probably some movement towards President Trump but still overwhelming support for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates as opposed to President Trump.

GJELTEN: A final point - by census estimates, there may be 400,000 more Indian Americans in the U.S. now than there were four years ago. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NK-67'S "CONSISTENCY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
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