Just when you thought the American presidential election could not sink much lower it did.
And this time it was not something Donald Trump blurted out.
Meet the Republican Hindu Coalition.
Fronted by Indian-American entrepreneur Shalabh Kumar, this was the group that anointed Donald Trump its messiah, raised megabucks for him (much of it from Kumar and his wife who pumped almost a million dollars into the campaign) and got Trump to address their Bollywood-style charity event for "victims of terror". Who knows whether it helped Trump with the Indian-American vote but it certainly built Kumar's profile on television.
But now in the last days of the campaign, the RHC has hit below the belt. An ad it has produced for Indian networks in the US, like Zee TV, TV Asia and Star TV, warns voters against voting for Hillary Clinton because her aide Huma Abedin is "of Pakistani origin and will become chief of staff if she wins". It has also mailed out 60,000 print flyers warning voters that the "Chief of Staff in [a] Clinton White House will be Huma Abedin, of Pakistani and Saudi background."
It has also mailed out 60,000 print flyers warning voters that the "Chief of Staff in [a] Clinton White House will be Huma Abedin, of Pakistani and Saudi background."
There's no guaranteeing who will be Clinton's chief of staff if she becomes President. Abedin is in the eye of the storm because her ex-husband Anthony Weiner's sexting scandal has again breathed new life into Clinton's email server controversy.
But that has nothing to do with her ethnic origin. For the record, Abedin is of both Indian and Pakistani origin. Her mother is originally from Pakistan, her father was born in New Delhi, she was born in Michigan. But even that is irrelevant. What's utterly repugnant is that a group that claims to represent the interest of a group of immigrants, has no compunctions about using someone's ethnicity as a smear against her character. This is not about liberal or conservative. Huma Abedin's policies, Huma Abedin's statements, Huma Abedin's writings are fair game. Huma Abedin's marital history is not. And Huma Abedin's birth history even less so.
Thankfully the Republican Hindu Coalition does not represent all Hindus. The Hindu-American Foundation has not minced its words in coming out against the ad. "Condemning anyone simply because of their religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is against the pluralistic ethos of Hinduism and has no place in a democracy," says Suhag Shukla, the executive director of the Hindu American Foundation.
Thankfully the Republican Hindu Coalition does not represent all Hindus. The Hindu-American Foundation has not minced its words in coming out against the ad.
Indian Americans running for political office often have their ethnicity used against them in overt and covert ways. When Ro Khanna challenged Mike Honda for a Silicon Valley seat, a pro-Honda group sent out flyers saying "Don't let Ro Khanna outsource our jobs."
Just because Khanna is Indian-American, the mailer tried to link his ethnic heritage with the hot-button outsourcing issue. When Raj Goyle ran for office in Kansas in the mid West, he was very much a local boy who had grown up in Wichita, Kansas. But he faced posters that said, "Remember 9/11. No to mosque in Manhattan. No to Goyle." Nikki Haley was called a "raghead". But what's more shocking this time around is that the attack in the name of Abedin's South Asian heritage has come not from some anonymous mailer, or a redneck anti-immigrant group but from a fellow South Asian, head of a South Asian group. Surely Kumar should know better.
Kumar was unapologetic when contacted by the New York Post. "Huma in general is as pro-terrorist as you could be ... she's got a really dark background. I can't even fathom. I don't understand why Hillary will associate herself with Huma," he said.
The irony is that while Kumar and the RHC try to convince Indian Americans that Hillary Clinton is the poster girl of anti-Indian politics, the rightwing website Breitbart.com is doing the opposite.
The irony is that while Kumar and the RHC try to convince Indian Americans that Hillary Clinton is the poster girl of anti-Indian politics, the rightwing website Breitbart.com is doing the opposite. They have articles attacking Hillary Clinton as being too pro-Indian reminding voters that she'd once joked "I am delighted to be the Senator from Punjab as well as from New York."
While Trump's Indian-American rally had placards saying Trump would speed up green cards, Breitbart lambastes Clinton for calling for doubling the H1-B programme. Clinton, it reminds voters, co-founded the Senate India Caucus. Kumar and his RHC would do well to look at their own backyard instead of Abedin's family tree.
There is a valid debate to be had as to whether a Trump administration would be more India-friendly than a Clinton one.
There is a valid debate to be had as to whether a Trump administration would be more India-friendly than a Clinton one. And Tanvi Madan discusses those pros and cons on the Brookings Institution. There is a valid debate to be had as to whether the Democratic Party takes the Indian American vote for granted. Shalabh Kumar is absolutely within his rights to make the Indian American voice more prominent in the Republican Party and to make the case that a conservative party should have more Indian American backers.
But with this one ad, Shalabh Kumar undermines everything he has done. Who would have thought that in an election which featured crotch-grabbing, rapist Mexicans and the size of Trump's whatever, Kumar and the Hindu Republican Coalition has become a top contender for the title of "Lowest of Low".
Who knows whether Shalabh Kumar just helped Donald Trump or hurt him with this low blow of an ad? But one thing is for sure, he certainly hurt all South Asians in America by attacking one of them on the basis of her ethnic origin.