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Obama’s Indian hand
From Hindi to Malayalam, no poll stone left unturned

Washington, Nov. 4: Barack Obama’s decision during the presidential campaign to appeal to the native instincts of Indian Americans may have played a big role in the outcome of Tuesday’s election to the White House.

Determined not to leave anything to chance, Obama began a unique appeal to Indian Americans in Hindi and Malayalam to vote for him soon after he was formally nominated as his party’s presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

On his hugely popular website, barackobama.com, the frontrunner to be the next President put out a one-page manifesto in Hindi and in Malayalam that listed his positions on key issues that affect Indian immigrants to the US.

Using his personal organisational strengths as a community organiser in his youth in Chicago’s poor suburbs, Obama then directed his aides to print this statement in the two Indian languages as leaflets and widely distribute those through Indian community organisations across America.

Motivated by this special appeal to native sensitivities, several Indians in the US campaigned for Obama in this election.

Obama’s strategy was to particularly target young Indian Americans, many of whom have moved away from the traditional support given by their well-to-do parents for Republican candidates in previous elections.

Such support proved crucial in states like Virginia where Obama hoped to benefit from changing demographics.

Catherine Pallivathuckal, 23, comes from a family of Democratic supporters. Catherine, who works in an actuary in Connecticut, took a week’s leave from her work, flew to Ohio at her expense, checked into a hotel, rented a car and campaigned for Obama in Cleveland.

Catherine, whose parents come from Kerala, had voted in the last presidential election in 2004 as an absentee voter from Bangalore where she was then studying.

This year, she plunged headlong into Obama’s campaign after returning to the US and taking up her first job in Connecticut. The Obama campaign readily accepted her offer to campaign as a volunteer in Ohio where the Democrats were in need of campaigners.

Anita Palathingal of New York also similarly flew to Ohio and campaigned for Obama. Anita has been involved in progressive causes in New York for several years.

She works for a magazine in Manhattan that deals with labour issues, but she found that while New York will overwhelmingly vote for Obama, Ohio was in the balance and Obama’s campaign needed people for the get-out-to-vote efforts.

Last Sunday, the two Indian American girls were rewarded by Obama with standing room right behind him at a rally in Cleveland that was watched nationally on television because singer-song-writer-guitarist Bruce Springsteen and his wife sang at the event.

The rally was so huge that Catherine and Anita were told by the organisers to arrive at the venue at 10am for the programme that began at about 4pm.

Ohio is a key battleground state which catapulted George W. Bush to the White House in 2004. This year Obama is trying to wrest the state from the Republicans.

No Republican has won the presidency in the history of American elections without winning Ohio, which has 20 crucial members in the electoral college which will choose the next President.

Obama’s manifesto in Hindi and Malayalam told Indians in America that he has a record of demanding comprehensive laws that allow easier immigration to the US. It said he views with sympathy the plight of those who are in the US without proper immigration documentation.

The Hindi and Malayalam manifesto promised that if elected president, Obama will strengthen the H-1B visa scheme under which tens of thousands of Indians are in the US as nurses, teachers and computer programmers, among other similar jobs.

The manifesto also assures Indian Americans that as President, Obama will work for a balance between guarding the security of America’s national borders and ensuring that immigrant families are not divided on account of US laws, leaving wives and children in India while the husband is allowed to work in the US or vice versa.

The manifesto also talked about health care for immigrants, communalism, education and small business, all issues of interest for Indian immigrants to America.

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