The most recent race-baiting mailer to fall before voters in Edison seeks to leverage the memory of a violent split that formed the modern nations of India and Pakistan.
The mailer, sent by Bergen County resident and Mahesh Bhagia supporter Corrado Belgiovine, promotes a prominent Pakistani American leader’s endorsement of rival mayoral candidate Sam Joshi, saying he and his slate have “supported the Pakistani and greater Muslim community.”
The mailer was sent exclusively to Indian Edison residents who draw their ancestry to Gujarat, an Indian state bordering Pakistan.
The two countries were separated during the Partition of India of 1947, when colonial India was split into two states, with Muslims residing in India travelling to the newly-formed Pakistan and Hindus in the new state headed the other way.
Death tolls vary, though as many as 2 million died during the partition, with between 10 and 20 million displaced along religious lines.
“Just because of the scale of what happened, the tragedy and the deaths and so many people having to leave their former homeland, families, friends separated — that kind of thing — that obviously continues to have a deep psychological imprint on society in India and Pakistan,” said Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, a highly-regarded Washington-based think tank.
Attitudes towards each other among American Indian and Pakistani diaspora communities differ widely, Kugelman said, adding many had abandoned resentment over the decades-old conflict.
“I don’t want to generalize, but I do think on the whole Indian Americans and Pakistani Americans get along fairly well in the U.S., and that’s because they live alongside each other,” he said. “In many cases, they work in similar fields.”
Friendlier attitudes are more common among younger generations of Indian and Pakistani Americans, he said, adding their parents or grandparents may hold some lingering animus.
But the mailer follows a line that has become prevalent in contemporary Indian politics under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said.
“What we’ve seen play out very frequently in India over the last few years, particularly with the Narendra Modi government in power, is for the ruling party — Modi’s party — and supporters to brand critics of the government as basically sponsored by Pakistan or somehow compromised by ties to Pakistan,” Kugelman said. “A common epithet in India has basically become ‘go back to Pakistan’ to those that are critical of the Indian government. It’s almost like the dynamic’s playing out here.”
Edison has a sizeable community of Gujarati individuals, and Modi hails from the Indian state. It’s possible that some of Edison’s Indian residents who support the Modi government may adopt a similar posture.
It remains to be seen whether the tactic is effective. Middlesex County Democrats passed over Bhagia, the Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman, overgrowing discomfort with his alleged involvement with a racist 2017 flyer that warned the “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”
They’ve endorsed Joshi instead.