Hawkeye State’s Indian American community excited about Iowa Caucus

Community leaders say Indian Americans are more focused and active this time around.

On a cold Sunday evening, just ahead of Monday’s Iowa Caucus, Jay Sehgal, executive vice president of Des Moines-based Sehgal Foundation, along with some of his Indian American friends and business owners from the state, met for a casual coffee and caucus meeting, as the friends called it.

They discussed the all-important Iowa caucus, due to held the next evening. “What is particularly significant this time around is that the community is much more focused and active,” said Sehgal, a long-time Des Moine resident and community leader, talking about the mood of the Indian American Iowans. “There is not just a willingness to go and participate in the process, but a lot many Indians are also volunteering across the city for the caucus. Something that did not happen in such numbers before.”

Sehgal’s estimate about the buzz in the community is not just anecdotal. It is backed by others with statistics.

“In the past one month, beginning January 2020, we have seen 870 new Indian Americans registering as Democrats,” says Prakash Koparappu, President, Indo-American Association of Iowa says. “That is huge for a community that so far preferred being not registered on their political leanings.”

Iowa Caucus is the major electoral contest in the presidential election season.

According to Koparappu, the February 3rd Caucus is going to be significant among the Iowa Indian American community, as for the first time since 2016, many are choosing to come out and stand and register their preference. “During our 18 months of volunteering and channeling the Asian and Latino communities we urged many Indians to go and register themselves,” he told the American Bazaar. “Many Indians did not know that in order to participate in the Caucus, you have to a registered Democrat. Also, traditionally, Indians have shied away from local politics as during events such as Mondays’ caucus one has to stand and announce their preference for the candidate. Something many Indian physicians or business owners didn’t want to do expressly. But we definitely see much of that changing.”

What makes the community charged up about the Caucus?

Many say that Indian Americans, though making up just 1 percent of the population, have realized that their votes do matter.

Sanjay Kumar, an Indian American, Iowan who runs a small business, would be braving the expected chill and snow on Monday night to mark his presence at the nearby library, which is serving as the caucus for his area to pick his favorite candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“In the past, a lot of us felt that even hugely popular candidates among the Indian community did little to outreach,” he says. “This may have been due to non-visibility of Indian Americans in the local phases, so yes, we do need to change that.”

The political awareness within the community is definitely up many notches, says Koparappu, who arranged for an informal chai and chat breakfast meeting with Indian American Rep. Ro Khanna on Sunday morning.

“Khanna, who is campaigning for Bernie Sanders, one of the front-runners, discussed everything from foreign policy to US-India relations to diplomacy and tension in Kashmir,” he adds. “So, we had a very candid chat and it was great to see everyone come out and speak their minds.”

Asked who would a majority of Indian Americans would be favoring tonight, Sehgal and Koparappu differed. “I would say there is a 50:50 inclination towards Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders,” says Sehgal. “While Sanders appeals to the younger lot, the older generation is looking at Biden. But more than that, the concern is that we should support a candidate who can be in it for the long run.”

Koparappu says, “There seems to be a 50:50 inclination towards Pete (Buttigieg) and Biden (Joe). However, I must add that a lot of younger crowd is immensely attracted to Andrew Yang, too. So, there is an interest in Sanders and Yang among the younger voters, too.”

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