NEW DELHI: Can 50,000 Indian-Americans play a pivotal role in the US presidential elections? Florida, where George Bush beat Al Gore by just 537 votes in 2000, is again, as Americans say, too close to call. And Florida is must-win for Donald Trump if he is to win the general elections, say US analysts. Latest polls show Clinton with a waferthin lead over Donald Trump.
So, the 50,000 Indian-Americans living in Florida can become a significant voting bloc. But can Florida’s ‘desis’, mostly well-todo business owners and professionals, make sure their votes really count? Indian-American Democratic and Republican operatives say the community will be crucial. Some neutrals from the community are not so sure.
There are different views. Dr Kiran C Patel, a cardiologist in Tampa, Florida, who has built a business empire of health insurance and managed healthcare companies worth billions of dollars, say Indian-Americans suffer from “political apathy” and “lack of unity”.
“A bloc of even 15,000 could swing an election as close as this. It would, in fact, have provided the ideal opportunity for the Indian American community to come together and be counted as a differentiator in American politics,” Dr Patel told ET from his home in Tampa.
“Since Florida could become the deciding state in the election, every community becomes valuable,” points out Iggy Ignatius, an India-born businessman. Ignatius has set up ShantiNiketan, a community of 174 homes, all owned by Indian retirees, at Tavares, Florida.
Incidentally, people at the community are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with a slight advantage towards Republicans and Trump, says Ignatius. Mike Patel, a hotelier and financial services entrepreneur from Atlanta, Georgia, runs businesses spread across different states, including Florida. He is also a long-time supporter and fundraiser of both Bill and Hillary Clinton.
He is now part of last-ditch efforts by Democrats in Florida to rally around not just Indian Americans but members of the larger South Asian community to vote for Clinton.
“We just finished a weekend meeting in support of Clinton where we got a very good response not just from Indian-Americans but also from Hispanics, African Americans, Bangladeshi Americans and members of the LGBT community,” Patel told ET from a hotel in West Palm Beach in Florida located close to the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple, which is a hub for the Indian community.
More meetings were held over the weekend with members of the community. Patel felt that since 2000, many more Indian-Americans had moved to Florida and they were an economically strong community — and their votes would obviously count this time around.
Sanjay Puri, chairman of the bipartisan US India Political Action Committee, too, echoed Patel’s thoughts by pointing out that the desis in the battleground state will play a very significant role in an election that’s too close to call.
“Historically, Florida has had some key Republicans, including supporters of former president George W Bush such as Dr Zach Zachariah and Dr Akshay Desai. In this election, too, Florida is very important,” Puri said.
Chicago businessman Shalabh Kumar, who is Trump’s biggest Indian-American supporter, seems to be banking on history repeating itself. The chairman of the Republican Hindu Coalition, Kumar is leaving nothing to chance and has been holding meetings with Indian Americans across Florida and other swing states.