I'm a big fan of India, Trump tells Hindu rally

Mr Trump lighting an oil lamp before addressing the rally organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition in New Jersey at the weekend. Beside him is Mr Shalabh Kumar, the coalition's founder and one of his biggest fund-raisers. In a warm speech towards
Mr Trump lighting an oil lamp before addressing the rally organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition in New Jersey at the weekend. Beside him is Mr Shalabh Kumar, the coalition's founder and one of his biggest fund-raisers. In a warm speech towards Hindus and India, Mr Trump praised the country and Indian PM Narendra Modi.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • This was a Trump rally like no other. On the same day that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told a mostly white crowd in Maine that he would unite the United States under "one god", he appeared in front of a crowd of thousands of people of Indian extraction and lit an oil lamp.

"I am a big fan of Hindu and a big fan of India," he said, to loud cheers from a crowd comprised of many US citizens, but also many who are at various stages along the path to citizenship, or just visiting from India.

The rally at the weekend in Edison, New Jersey, was organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition, whose founder Shalabh Kumar is one of Mr Trump's biggest fund-raisers.

In a remarkably warm speech towards Hindus and India, in which he said the two nations would be "best friends", Mr Trump stuck entirely to praise for India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as his standard policy positions. He compared himself with Mr Modi, whom he called a "great man", and condemned the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "We will stand shoulder to shoulder with India in sharing intelligence and keeping our people safe mutually."

In a statement days prior to the rally, Mr Kumar said: "With India and Pakistan on the brink of war and lives at stake in the global war on terror, Mr Trump is the president we need at this time."

Hindu supporters of Mr Trump at the event said they find common ground with the candidate on his perceived toughness against "radical Islamic terror", as well as promises of low taxes. On the other hand, Mr Trump has often said he would curtail immigration to the US, which seemed at odds in a room filled with immigrants and those hoping to become Americans.

For over two hours prior to Mr Trump's speech, the rally venue saw a celebration of Bollywood culture. "I am here to see Prabhu Deva," said Mr Kashyap Patel, 29, referring to a celebrity known for his dancing style. "I think most people came for entertainment purposes."

Many in the Indian-American community lean towards the Democratic Party. Roughly 70 per cent plan to vote for Mrs Hillary Clinton, compared with 7 per cent for Mr Trump, according to polls.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'I'm a big fan of India, Trump tells Hindu rally'. Print Edition | Subscribe