Glued By Democracy, Diaspora & Dragon, India, US Relations The Most ‘Defining Moment’ Of 21st Century

The growing clout of the Indian diaspora in the United States and the seeming fear of China as a threat to global peace and stability explain like nothing else why Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just-concluded visit to the United States – marked by the conclusion of many important agreements, including the one on defense – is being described in both Indian and American strategic circles as a defining moment in Indo-US relations.

During the visit, President Joe Biden pointed out that America’s relations with India cannot be compared to his country’s ties with China. America values its relations with India higher today because both countries happen to be democracies.

“[There’s] a common democratic character in both our countries — our people, our diversity, our cultures are open, tolerant, [there’s] robust debate,” Biden said. “We believe in the dignity of every citizen.” He then added that the whole world “has a stake” in the success of American and Indian democracies, which makes both nations “appealing partners and enables us to expand democratic institutions … around the world.”

Relations between India and the United States seem to have transformed considerably since the time (1993) when US diplomat and author Dennis Kux wrote a book titled “India and the United States: Estranged Democracies,” chronicling the history of the bilateral relationship that was marked by more downs than ups. And now, if there are more ups than downs, that is primarily due to the increasing profiles of the Indian Diaspora in America.

It is for nothing that during his address to the joint session of the US Congress, Prime Minister Modi said: “The foundation of America was inspired by the vision of a nation of equal people. Throughout your history, you have embraced people from around the world. And you have made them equal partners in the American dream. There are millions here who have roots in India. Some of them sit proudly in this chamber. There is one behind me (Vice President Kamala Harris) who has made history! “

Narendra Modi Joe Biden
Narendra Modi & Joe Biden

While welcoming Modi to the White House, President Biden highlighted the contributions of Americans of Indian heritage in his administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris. “I see it in the Indian-American Diaspora that reflects every part of American life and remains a bridge between our nations and only grows stronger with each generation,” he said.

“We see it with record numbers of Indian-Americans serving in the United States Congress. We see it here at the White House where proud Americans of Indian heritage serve our country every day, including our vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris,” Biden added.

Notably, a record 150-plus Indian-Americans serve in key positions in the Biden administration.

Some relevant facts regarding the Indian Diaspora in the United States are in order. According to the latest available data, today, Indians represent the second largest US immigrant group, after Mexicans, and ahead of Chinese and Filipinos. There are 4.9 million US residents (Non-Resident Indians and those who are already US citizens).

India is the source of the second largest number of international students enrolled in US higher education.

The share with advanced degrees stands out: 49 percent of Indian immigrant adults held a graduate or professional degree in 2021, compared to 15 percent of foreign-born and 13 percent of US-born adults.

In fact, in the US, almost 80% of the Indian-born population over school age has at least an undergraduate degree, compared to just 50% of the Chinese-born population and 30% of the total population.

Indian nationals are the primary beneficiaries of H-1B temporary visas for highly skilled foreign workers, accounting for 74 percent of all H-1Bs approved in fiscal year (FY) 2021, followed by Chinese with 12 percent.

Indians participate in the labor force at higher rates than all immigrants and US-born. About 72 percent of Indian immigrants aged 16 and older were in the civilian labor force in 2021, compared to 66 percent and 62 percent for the foreign and US-born populations, respectively. Compared to those two groups, Indians are employed in management, business, science, and arts occupations.

It has been reported that 25 chief executives at the top 500 companies in the United States are now of Indian descent, up from 11 a decade ago. And these include Adobe, Alphabet, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. The deans at three of the five leading business schools, including Harvard Business School, are of Indian origin too. The new head of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, who had run MasterCard for over a decade, was born and educated in India.

It is no wonder that Indians are the highest-earning migrant group in America, with a median household income of almost $150,000 per year. That is double the national average and well ahead of Chinese migrants, with a median household income of over $95,000.

Importantly, it has been found that most Indian immigrants who have done exceptionally well as highly-paid professionals in the United States happen to be the cream of the students who studied science, engineering, medicine, and business management before immigrating to America. And this trend has been most noticeable since the late 1990s.

In other words, the majority of Indians who come to the United States today are relatively from well-to-do families and are well-educated, not poor, which is the case with the majority of other immigrants.

As the Economist magazine has noted, if one looks at the top 20% of researchers in artificial intelligence (defined as those who had papers accepted for a competitive conference in 2019),  8% did their first degree in India.

This means that these Indian Americans, having the best professional jobs, form a massive constituency for India that no American government or business can ignore. It is all the more so when Modi, notwithstanding what his critics may say, has nurtured this constituency in every important country, particularly in the US, in terms of what he says the 3 C’s—’connect’ with India, ‘celebrate’ their cultural heritage, and ‘contribute’ to the development of the homeland.

The Modi government has considered the diaspora as its strategic asset in terms of exercising its influence with the governments in their respective countries for better ties with India or becoming investors in India’s developmental activities.

Indeed, the diaspora is not monolithic, and late strident voices from a section against the Modi government have emerged. But overall, they seem to be in the minority. A survey not long ago showed that the majority in the diaspora loved Modi and was deeply committed to India and its causes.

However, it is worth pondering why in the US, essentially a nation of immigrants, some diasporas succeed better than others in influencing American foreign policy. According to John Newhouse, who specializes in foreign lobbies in the United States, Indian Americans are as effective as American Jews in lobbying for their mother country.

“India’s US-based lobby is the only lobby in Washington that is likely to acquire the strength of the Israel lobby,” he argues, as both rely on a strong network of law and public relations firms and are supported by a large ethnic population group in the United States, many of whose members are well educated and financially successful.

A critical feature of the growing clout of the Indian Americans is their proximity to people who matter in Washington. Many of their children work with Senators and Congresspersons on Capitol Hill as interns and staff Members. As Professor Devesh Kapur of Johns Hopkins University says, “Capitol Hill is crammed with staff and interns of Indian-American heritage. They appear over-represented in academia, the media, and other influential posts.”

Besides, like the American Jews, Indian Americans are now active participants in American politics as donors, voters, or candidates. Their high levels of education, English-language proficiency, and roots in India, a country with its own long democratic tradition, all help their ever-increasing political participation.

A study  by Cambridge University argues that two factors increase the likelihood of diaspora mobilization: “a community’s experience with democratic governance and conflict in its country of origin.” These conditions, it says, make it more likely that political entrepreneurs emerge to serve as catalysts for top-down mobilization.

Thus, Indian Americans have a substantial advantage over other immigrants like Chinese Americans because of their democratic roots in India. Indians’ mastery of English, a British colonial legacy they share with Americans, also helps, it is said.

Last but not least, the Indian diaspora’s influence on Washington, drawing closer to Delhi than Beijing, is also facilitated by the fact that there is an increasing realization both in India and the United States that China is their common adversary.

A recent Gallup survey says that a record-low 15% of Americans view China favorably. In contrast, 77 percent of them rate India positively.

This perhaps explains why there is strong bipartisan support for India in the US, the rationale being that though India is strictly not an ally, it will play a better role in containing China’s rising power than, say, France or Germany, or even a Japan, given the intensity and range of their respective economic links with Beijing.

  • Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has been commenting on politics, foreign policy, on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. 
  • CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at)
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Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on Indian politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (Seoul) and FMSH (Paris). He has also been the Chairman of the Governing Body of leading colleges of the Delhi University. Educated at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he has undergone professional courses at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and Seoul National University (Seoul). Apart from writing many monographs and chapters for various books, he has authored books: Prime Minister Modi: Challenges Ahead; Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy; Rising India: Friends and Foes; Nuclearization of Divided Nations: Pakistan, Koreas and India; Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. He has written over 3000 articles and columns in India’s national media and several international dailies and magazines. CONTACT: