The Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) is pulling out all the stops to get Donald Trump into the White House.
The group was founded in 2015 by the Chicago-based businessman Shalabh Kumar, who has become one of Trump’s biggest backers (he and his wife have already donated nearly $900,000 to Trump’s campaign and they’re aiming for $1.1 million). Kumar is determined to get the deep-pocketed but traditionally left-leaning Indian-American community on Trump’s side.
To do so, he has invited a host of Bollywood celebrities, including the actors Shahid Kapoor, Prabhu Deva, and Malaika Arora Khan, to a charity event to be held in New Jersey on Sept. 24. And the guest of honor is Trump himself.
In July, Kumar said he was planning a “mega Bollywood fund-raising event in the US for victims of terror in America and around the world” that would “serve as a forum to reach out to Indian American supporters and donors for Trump’s presidential bid.”
According to a flyer posted on Facebook, the event is for the benefit of “victims of terror particularly Kashmiri pundits and Hindu refugees from Bangladesh.”
The event is not listed as a fundraiser for Trump, but winning the hearts and minds (as well as the donations) of Indian-Americans should be a high priority for the candidate. Indians are the second-largest immigrant group in the US and the country’s wealthiest ethnic group, according to US Census data. As of 2012, there were over 3 million Indian Americans living in the country, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, with about half identifying as Hindus.
Trump faces an uphill battle in this community. In the 2008 elections, around 84% of Indian Americans voted for Barack Obama and data from the Pew Research Center shows that even in 2012 a majority of the community aligned themselves with the Democrats. Earlier this year, a survey showed that nearly 60% of Indian Americans viewed the Republican party unfavorably and 62% had a similar negative opinion of Trump.
But the RHC is trying to change that. Even as Trump has taken a hard-line (though constantly shifting) stance on immigration, the lobby group is determined to convince Hindu-American voters that they are not the kind of immigrants Trump is eager to deport or build a wall to keep out.
“I have 100% complete assurance from Donald Trump that he would welcome talent from India,” Kumar told the Indian television channel ET Now last month, adding that Trump’s anti-immigration stance pertained to “illegal immigration that deals with drugs or terrorism.”
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has helped him find him fans among right-wing Hindus in the US and in India, playing off the long-running tensions between the two communities. In May, members of a Hindu group conducted religious rituals in New Delhi to ask the gods to help Trump win the elections in November.