The political race to decide the next President of the United States of America is heating up with less than three weeks left before Election Day on November 3. Both sitting President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden have reached out to Indian-Americans, who are a large demographic and can swing elections at the local level. But even within Indian-Americans, in states like Virginia, Texas, California and Illinois, the Telugu diaspora, have a significant presence.
Telugu is one of the fastest growing languages in the US and these voters have formed different associations that work for their well-being and host cultural programs, which draw in prominent personalities from back home. During the elections, while the associations do not endorse a candidate, their members, often well-known people in the Telugu community, do.
The Telugu population in the US especially rose after the Information Technology (IT) boom in the 1990s and now many prominent American faces are from the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh; whether it is the Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella or Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.
A study published by the Center for Immigration Studies in 2018 found that "of languages with more than 400,000 speakers in 2017, the largest percentage increases from 2010 to 2017 were among speakers of Telugu," which was up by 86 percent in seven years. While the largest numerical increase from 2010 to 2017 was among speakers of Spanish (up four million), Telugu came in fifth at 1,92,000 just after Hindi at 2,54,000, the study said.
"When it comes to our individual role, whosoever is a citizen, we help them register to vote. We arrange postal ballots for those who are not in a position to vote at polling booths and we work with district congressmen and senators to ensure that more people go to vote," Yash Bodduluri Board of Director, Greater Washington Telugu Society (GWTC) and Chair, NRI Services for the Telugu Association of North America (TANA) told TNM.
Yash says that while immigration is an issue, "We staunchly believe in the legal immigration process to ensure that only high-skilled immigrants come here."
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"This is a peculiar election as it doesn't revolve around Indian-origin people much. The political battle is being fought on race, centering around the African-American community. States like Kansas have seen Telugu students lose their lives due to gun violence, but I still personally believe that people will vote for Republicans because the Democrats have lost the traditional vote bank of immigrants that they had," he opined, when asked about how the community would vote.
Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic is another issue for the community.
Asked about how things changed with COVID-19, Yash said, "We earlier used to knock on doors and campaign for candidates in our personal capacity and also get people out to vote, but now that has shifted to phone calls and other virtual means."
Speaking to The News Minute, Paramesh Bheemreddy, the President of the American Telugu Association (ATA), siad, "As a citizen, the issues are the same for us as any other American citizen. While immigration is an issue to some, because a relative is affected by the Green Card backlog and restrictions on H1B visa processing, we cannot generalise."
"Telugus are not a voting block in the traditional sense. I know many who are strong supporters of both Democrats and Republicans, irrespective of their ethnicity," he added.
Asked about the Democrat's move to pick Kamala Harris as the Vice Presidential candidate, Bheemreddy said, "Though Kamala is Indian-origin, not many in the community are happy with the policies."
However, a new poll by Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) said that an overwhelming 72% of registered Indian-Americans planned to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket and only 22% for President Donald Trump.
The poll showed a slight erosion of five percent in support to Biden among Indian-Americans, while Trump seemed to have improved his support level by six percent compared to the 16% in the last election.
"The Indian community leans towards Democrats rather than Republicans because in a way, their philosophies are aligned, because that’s the side that takes care of healthcare, education and immigration. But the business-side of the Indian community, who run small chains, restaurants, motels, etc - they tend to lean towards Republicans," a Telugu Indian-American from Chicago said.
"While Trump kept unemployment low earlier, which helped the Indian community, the way he dealt with COVID-19 has disappointed many. Biden's inclusive policies and the decision to field Kamala Harris as VP, has put him in a position of advantage," he added.
Observers however, say that a large chunk of registered voters from theTelugu community who actually turn up to vote are not from the IT sector, but rather businessmen. They prefer the policies of the Republican party and this may affect the outcome of the election, depending on the voter turnout.