PM Modi, religion and CAA: How Indian Americans perceive India

Gayatri Vinayak
·5-min read
Manish Mallick, owner of the Indian restaurant ROOH, poses for a portrait Tuesday, July 14, 2020, outside the West Loop restaurant in Chicago. When Mallick opened his Chicago restaurant last year, he was focused on building his business and getting rave reviews about the eatery's
Manish Mallick, owner of the Indian restaurant ROOH, poses for a portrait Tuesday, July 14, 2020, outside the West Loop restaurant in Chicago. When Mallick opened his Chicago restaurant last year, he was focused on building his business and getting rave reviews about the eatery's "progressive Indian cuisine" from the city's top critics. Now some of his biggest fans are on the city's South Side, where he regularly delivers hundreds of meals to those hardest-hit by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Indian Americans hold a liberal view regarding issues concerning the United States such as white supremacy. However, this does not necessarily translate into similar views when it comes to issues concerning India. This was revealed in an analysis of 1,200 Indian American adults conducted in September 2020, titled the “How Do Indian Americans View India? Results from the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey', conducted in September 2020.

As per the survey, Indian Americans are divided when it comes to their beliefs on whether India is going in the right or the wrong way. While 36 per cent of the respondents felt India is on the right track, 39 per cent felt it was on the wrong track. In comparison, 67 per cent of the respondents believed the United States is on the wrong track, with just 33 per cent believing it is on the right track.

This reveals a more pessimistic attitude than with Indians in India. A June-July 2020 Ipsos survey revealed that 60 per cent of Indians felt that India was on the right track.

Further, the survey has also found out that one in two Indian Americans feels personally connected to India. This manifests itself through cultural, personal and political links.

74 per cent of the respondents were US citizens, while 23 per cent were non-US citizens. Out of this 23 per cent, 88 per cent have retained their Indian citizenship. The survey is a collaboration between Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and the University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with YouGov.

On race and religion

As per the survey, Indian Americans believed that white supremacy is a greater threat to minorities in the United States than Hindu majoritarianism is to minorities in India. While 70 per cent of Hindus agreed white supremacy was a threat, 79 per cent of non-Hindus felt so.

In India, however, the divide is much steeper - only 40 per cent Hindus felt a Hindu majority state in India was a threat to minorities as compared to 67 per cent of non-Hindus.

Religion has also divided loyalties amongst the Indian American diaspora with Hindu Indian Americans holding a different view on domestic policies and issues in India as compared to non-Hindu Indian Americans.

Religion also played a role when it comes to connecting with India. Hindu Indian Americans reported a greater connection to India than non-Hindu Indian Americans. While 28 per cent of non-Hindu Indian Americans felt less connected to India, this was 18 per cent amount Hindu Indian Americans.

On politics

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys the maximum support among members of the Indian American community, as per the survey, with one-third of the respondents favouring the BJP, and 12 per cent going with the Congress Party.

This also translates to support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is highest among Hindus, those who are Republican-leaning, those who hail from North and West India where BJP is dominant, those not born in the United States and those in the engineering profession.

As per the survey, 49 per cent of Indian Americans rate Modi’s performance favourably while 31 per cent disapproved of his performance. Approval rates were also higher among the older generation. 55 per cent of people above the age of 55 and 53 per cent of people between the ages of 30-49 approve of Modi, while the rates are lower among the younger segment of 18-29 (35 per cent).

In terms of awareness of political parties, while 70 per cent of respondents were aware of BJP and Modi, 60 per cent were aware of Congress and Rahul Gandhi while only 41 per cent knew of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The survey also used a ‘feeling thermometer’ to rate individuals and organisations on a scale of 0-100, with 0-49 being least favourable, 50 being indifferent and 51-100 most favourable. Modi enjoyed a higher rating at 58, while the BJP was rated 57. The RSS enjoyed a lower rating of 46, Congress was rated at 44, while Rahul Gandhi had the least favourable rating at 38.

On Government policies

The survey also chose five current issues in India and asked respondents whether they approved or disapproved of it:

  • The passage of the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act

  • The all-India National Register for Citizens

  • Force used by the police in some cities against peaceful protestors opposing the recent citizenship laws, occupying public spaces

  • Government’s use of sedition and defamation laws to silence reporters critical of the Modi administration

  • Caste identity being considered for Indian university admissions.

Both the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (51 per cent) and the all-India NRC (55 per cent) had a high level of support among Indian Americans. However, most respondents were unhappy with the use of police force against peaceful protests (65 per cent opposed it) and Government crackdown on media (69 per cent were against it).

The use of caste for affirmative action in University admissions had the community divided – while 47 per cent supported the action, 53 per cent opposed it.

The Indian American population is the second-largest immigrant group in the United States, with more than 4 million members. The survey shows that divided views among Hindu Indian Americans and non-Hindu Indian Americans, along with generational differences, could foreshadow a more fractured Indian American community in the near future.