On 15 October, in the loading bay of the New Jersey Convention Centre, amongst a mess of cables, broadcast vans and catering trucks, a white stretch limousine with the license plate AVG One cut an incongruous sight. Its owner, Shalabh Kumar, who goes by the moniker Shaili, is a portly man with white hair and vintage spectacles. That day, Kumar, stood in front of the gleaming limo, wearing a blue suit, red tie and black, heeled shoes. Two diamond-encrusted brooches—one in the shape of his initials SK, and the other in that of an Om—were pinned to his lapel.
Kumar is a Chicago-based businessman who owns AVG Advanced Technologies, a multi-million dollar electronics company. He was the organiser of the event I was in New Jersey to attend—an awkward yoking-together of moderately successful Bollywood celebrities to raise funds for Hindu victims of terror in South Asia, headlined by the Republican candidate for President of the United States, Donald Trump. In 2015, Kumar founded the Republican Hindu Coalition to get Hindu Americans on the policy making table on Capitol Hill.
In interviews to Indian television channels before the event, Kumar said that Trump was the only candidate who could see the “camel in the room,” a pejorative metaphor referring to Trump’s promises of countering radical Islamic terror. As a mark of his support, Kumar reportedly donated $1.5 million to the Trump campaign. Trump returned the favour by agreeing to address Indians at the event, a first by any major Presidential candidate. The event was meant to galvanise the Indian vote for the Republican nominee —or rather the Hindu vote, if we are to go by the group’s name.
While any event featuring Trump is bound to receive widespread coverage within the US, this particular gathering predictably caught the fancy of the press in India as well. Apart from several Indian journalists based in the United States, the event was also attended by correspondents who had been sent by leading news outlets from India. The channels NDTV, Times Now as well as the paper Hindustan Times got exclusive interviews with Trump before the event—a big scoop considering Trump has not given interviews to the American press for over a month. The event itself was reported by newspapers and online publications as a surreal spectacle that featured samosa chat, sequined ethnic costumes, and Bollywood alongside obvious displays of anti-Muslim sentiment.