Visit to Rajdhani Mandir is part of Trump campaign strategy to woo Indian-American voters in a key swing state
By Geeta Goindi
Chantilly, Virginia, October 25, 2016 – In a bid to woo Indian-American voters in a key swing state, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law visited a well-known Hindu temple frequented by scores of devotees.
Lara Yunaska Trump, wife of Eric Trump who is the second son of the GOP White House hopeful, reached out to the Indian-American community at the Rajdhani Mandir on a cool, crisp and sunny Tuesday, exactly two weeks before Election Day on November 8.
Upon arriving at the beautiful temple with Lynne Patton, Vice President of the Eric Trump Foundation, she was accorded a very warm, traditional Indian welcome, given a tour of the sanctorum with insights about Hinduism which is among the five major world religions, presented a copy of the sacred Bhagavad Gita and a set of the stunning Diwali stamp released earlier this month by the United States Postal Service (USPS), offered prasadam (sanctified food), and treated to Indian dance performances by talented artistes of the Mudra Arts Center. She is very likeable, gracious, affable and created quite an impression on the small, but attentive, audience on a weekday afternoon.
We asked Lara about her experience of visiting the temple. “This is beautiful”, she gushed. “It’s such an honor to be able to come here”. She underscored that Indian-Americans “are valued members of the entire country. Your religion is beautiful and we are very supportive as a country”, she said. “This country was founded on the freedom of religion and it is so amazing that we have such incredible religions within the United States of America”.
The event, albeit held at a temple, can best be described as a community outreach effort. It was organized by the Republican Indian Committee (RIC) founded in 2009 by Shekhar Tiwari, a long-time GOP supporter, and the program was led by Rajesh Gooty, an Indian-American community activist. The temple’s Diwali celebration is on Sunday, October 30.
Rajdhani Mandir is situated in western Fairfax County which adjoins Loudoun County. Both counties boast a large and growing population of highly skilled Indian-Americans, many of whom are working in the Information Technology (IT) sector.
To the gathering at the temple, Lara said: “I understand what an asset you are to the entire country”.
In her address, she seemed to defend her father-in-law’s proposals by upholding the shining example of the Indian-American community. Noting that Donald Trump “believes we need strong borders”, she told the congregation, “Many of you who have immigrated legally into this country understand it is a very tough process” which can take years. “It is not fair that other people are allowed to come in by jumping over a border and our tax dollars are taking care of them”, she lamented.
“We have to bring jobs back to this country”, she said, sounding a lot like her father-in-law. “As many of you are entrepreneurs, you understand the value of small business”, she told the audience. “We have more businesses closing rather than opening right now. Donald Trump is a businessman, not a politician, who understands how the economy works”.
Acknowledging that Indian-Americans are among the most highly educated ethnic groups in the US, Lara told the gathering, Donald Trump “wants to make sure that the education system is fixed. He wants to make sure that children are put first – safety and our kids”, she said.
Donald Trump is confounding the GOP, political analysts and strategists with his renewed push in a swing state where he is trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton by double digits according to Virginia polls.
His daughter-in-law’s visit to the temple can be attributed to the Trump campaign’s commitment to Virginia which has 13 electoral votes, and the resolve to reach a new base of voters.
Lara explained, “We heard a narrative about Donald Trump in the media. We didn’t agree with it, so we wanted to come out and speak on behalf of a man we knew was a good man and doing this (running for president) for the right reasons”.
Looking around at the gathering of Indian-Americans in the temple, she said, “I understand this is a group that has voted Democrat primarily in the past. So, just allowing us to come and talk to you, I think is wonderful”.
Virginia can tilt with our votes, declared Tiwari, underscoring the strength of the Indian-American community particularly in Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Republicans have a stronghold in the southern part of the state, he added.
Tiwari believed the foremost issue of importance to Indian-Americans is terrorism and in this regard he pointed out, “Donald Trump’s feelings resonate with ours. He does not like radical Islam”, he said.
“He believes Hindus are peace-loving people, not at all involved with terrorism. We are good and loyal citizens of America focusing on family values, education, creation of wealth for ourselves and our country”.
Polls show that the majority (about 70 percent) of Indian-Americans do not support Trump but seem to favor his tough-on-terror stand. Just ten days ago, the Republican presidential nominee addressed over 5,000 members of the community at an anti-terror rally in Edison, New Jersey, which was organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC).
New Jersey, unlike Virginia, is not a battleground state. Since September, Trump has made at least five visits to Virginia where he owns a winery and golf club. Mike Pence, his running mate, made four trips in this month alone.
As things stand, Republican’s hold a majority of the state’s seats in Congress and the General Assembly. Virginia does not have a Senate race on the ballot.
Interestingly, Clinton has picked a Virginian, Senator Tim Kaine, as her running mate.