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Desi Americans Trump Biden in Meme War

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Earlier this month, Jill Biden, wife of the Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden, posted a tweet in the “how it started vs how it’s going” meme format that has gained popularity on Twitter over the last few weeks.

Underneath ‘how it started’ was a picture of the Biden couple from their younger days, while ‘how it’s going’ showed a picture of the two wearing masks and waving at an audience in what seems like a campaign trail.

Among 5,000-plus comments on her post was a reply from a user @HinduForTrump. Captioned “And how it will end”, the tweet carried an image of Donald Trump smirking at the camera, taken on the day he had won the last presidential elections in 2016.

Memes are playing a big part in US election campaign and Indian Americans, particularly those of rightwing persuasion, are especially active.

More than a million Indian Americans are on voter rolls this time. A survey by the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) shows approximately 28% of them are planning to vote for Trump — a marked increase compared with 16% in 2016. That possible jump in support for Trump, who’s trailing in polls, is fuelling a rush of memes. Among favourite themes for rightwing Indian Americans is critiquing Democratic vice president nominee Kamala Harris. On Twitter, several accounts of Indian Americans with phrases like “Hindus for Trump” or “Chump for Trump” in their usernames and handles, have responded to anti-Trump posts with a GIF of Kamala Harris saying “Your Voice Matters” as part of an interview with international magazine Marie Claire from earlier this year, except it is edited to include “Vote for Trump” on top of her original message.

“There are no particular hashtags in the public realm to help you track the scale of pro-Trump memefest led by Hindu nationalists,” said a meme-marketing specialist from Bengaluru in India on the condition of anonymity.

“This entire operation is being carried out through Facebook and WhatsApp groups while the coordination happens via Telegram. At a stipulated time every evening, five-eight select users are told what type of content to propagate.”

The meme-marketing of pro-Trump Indian Americans is far more strategised than that of the anti-Trump desis, this person noted.

Last week, Harris’ niece Meena tweeted a painting of the Hindu goddess Durga riding a lion and about to kill the demon Mahishasura. This was to mark the beginning of the two Indian festivals associated with the deity, namely Durga Puja and Navratri.

However, the image she posted was photoshopped with her aunt Kamala’s face on Durga’s, along with Biden’s face in place of the lion’s, and Trump’s visibility agitated face superimposed on Mahishasura’s.

The tweet triggered a volley of messages from people saying they are Hindu nationalists. Meena had to eventually delete the tweet.

In this political fight of American desis where memes are being used as the artillery, pro-Trump posts far outnumber the anti-Trump ones.

“From what I have observed, Biden supporters from the Indian-American community are a class of intellectuals — a lot of whom are either not very active on social media or who still employ old-school methods for election campaigning,” said Saloni Gaur, an Indian comic who addresses social and political issues through her satirical videos across social media platforms.

Recently, Gaur uploaded a video on her social accounts taking a dig at Trump for calling India and its air “filthy” during his second and final presidential debate. “Biden ka button dabao, popcorn khao, Bella Ciao,” she said toward the end of her video, urging her viewers to vote for Biden.

“Twitter chatter around Trump’s comment prompted me to make the video,” said Gaur. “While Trump portrays himself as India’s best friend, he never leaves a chance to ditch us. He is like that friend we all had back in school who borrowed Rs 20 and never returned the money,” she quipped.

Like Gaur, several other Indians have called Trump out on his comment. Most of the US-based Indian-American rightwingers were noticeably quiet after Trump’s remark. And there’s some discussion whether Trump may lose some Indian-American votes.

Meanwhile, the memes continue popping up.

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