Indian-Americans on a roller coaster ride under Trump presidency



Sujeet Rajan photo-2

NEW YORK: The United States is on a roller coaster ride – the high-speed breathtaking slide invented by the Russians. Not the likes of Goliath at Six Flags in Valencia, the Cyclone in Brooklyn, or the Incredible Hulk-type amusement in Orlando, all of which gets over in minutes leaving one winded. This is more terrifying, a winding loop hurtling at break-neck speed for a full fortnight now since President Donald Trump assumed office.

Americans are in equal parts gorged with an immense sense of elation and satisfaction, as Trump goes about fulfilling his campaign promises, banning Muslims, foreigners and immigrants; and mixed with trepidation, as he humiliates world leaders with impunity, shows scant regard for diplomacy, and seems bent on breaking established government norms, everything from the Johnson Amendment which prohibited churches from espousing politics, banking legislation Dodd Frank, to bullying companies and countries with the threat of a 20% tax surcharge on imports, and economic sanctions.

But here’s the thing: Trump is only doing what he said he would do, on the campaign trail. So, even as he carries on his almost autocratic rule through Executive Actions which has incensed people around the world, seen a vigorous rise of feminist marches and demonstrations, criticism by leaders like Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel at the EU Summit in Malta, barring of US wrestlers by Iran, the message of ‘America First’ is resonating loud and clearly. Americans seem to understand him better now. Not just approve his words, which catapulted him to the White House, but his actions too.

Sure, there’s a deep sense of disbelief, disillusionment and despair in pockets around the country, as white nationalists like Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos grows in popularity despite violent protests at UC Berkeley, as is evident from his upcoming book ‘Dangerous’ hitting No.1 on Amazon, and White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon featured on the cover of Time magazine. But for most Americans, what seems to matter is not rabid discrimination of religious minorities and colored people, but steady growth of jobs in the country – the US added the most jobs in four months, with the January figures showing a net increase of 227,000 jobs, and unemployment falling to 4.8%.

A CBS News poll, released on February 3, reveals that Americans are sharply divided over Trump’s travel ban. A NBC poll shows almost half of Americans think Trump is moving too fast in decision-making. But really, does it matter? In time, most may shrug it off, accept the growth of the Alt-Right movement and the shunning of Muslims, foreigners and immigrants, would be the new normal. Especially if Trump gives tax relief to middle class America, boost the economy. In time, Americans may praise Trump for barring skilled immigrants who ensnare jobs. Progress and globalization be damned!

For Indian-Americans, and Indian nationals in the US, even as all these issues swirl forming dense patterns, the vital question that’s looming large is: Am I a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser, as in Trump parlance. That translates to ‘Are you going to be allowed to live in the US peacefully and thrive’? or ‘Are you going to live in the US, albeit in misery and fearful of being sent back home at a moment’s notice’?

There’s no doubt that all Muslims are facing heat in America. Not just the seven countries that’s been banned from securing visas. Indian Muslims fear the worst, as news pours in of atrocities against hijab-wearing women, and a mosque in Houston burned down. Indian Muslim immigrants on visas are even more insecure, just like Indian nationals on work visas are. They fear that an innocent vacation overseas would mean the kiss of death on their plans to settle down permanently in the US, barred from re-entering. Even Green Card holders may be ruing why they didn’t take up US citizenship earlier.

This week, a spate of fake news and dire travel warnings no doubt spoilt the quality of life for many immigrants, especially the gullible. However, it’s apparent that a deep-rooted sense of fear of persecution has set in within two weeks of Trump becoming President. A cascade of alarming information based on ‘leaked documents’ of proposed Executive Actions, which suggest that Trump may soon clamp down on H-1B visa holders, hapless spouses on H4 visas, and international students on F1 visa, has made this winter a season of discontent and dismay. The fire in the fireplace connote only destruction and despair, instead of warmth and rejoicing in all things new.

The Indian-American community is also troubled because there seems to be no bridge to Trump, to address their woes and misgivings, and to make the administration understand that their contribution to American society needs more recognition, not diminishment.

Barring one Republican Party donor, the Illinois-based entrepreneur Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, who is also the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition with ties to the administration, there’s no political or social entity who can take this message forward. And Kumar himself faces plenty of opposition for his support to Trump, and thinly veiled disgust for radical Islamic terrorism – which for some also means disgust for all Muslims – including, from all the five Indian-American legislators on Capitol Hill. They even held a press conference to lambast Kumar and his support for Trump.

Organized Indian-American and Diaspora organizations, like the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), and the India Caucus in the House and Senate need to step up to meet the challenges posed by the Trump administration. They all need to speak in unison and approach Trump on the need to protect the interest of Indians living in America – be it Hindu, Christian or Muslim. Be they citizens, Green Card holders, on work visas or students.

It’s time also for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to step up interaction with Trump and his administration. Barring two phone calls between Modi and Trump – with the most important message that emerged was the two leaders inviting each other over – there has been no other interaction. A delegation of Indian officials had earlier met with Trump confidante Newt Gingrich, on Capitol Hill, courtesy of Kumar. It’s time Modi intervenes to try protect the Diaspora he loves so much and champions as ‘Ambassadors of India’.

In the meantime, Indian-Americans, like other colored immigrants, continue to careen at frightening speed on the roller coaster ride set in motion by Trump.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Write to him: Follow him on twitter @SujeetRajan1)