Donald Trump stole the spotlight Saturday evening at what was advertised as a charity event to help those affected by terrorism in Kashmir.
He wooed the crowd of more than 2,000 by promising lower taxes — 15 percent — and saying that India and the U.S. will be “best friends” with him in the White House.
The event in Edison, hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition, drew a sizable crowd but failed to fill the 6,000 seats that were set up for the night.
The RHC was founded late last year by Chicago businessman Shalabh Kumar, and RHC officials said New Jersey was chosen to host the event because of its large Indian population, as well as its location between New York City and Philadelphia.
The evening event included Bollywood actress Malaika Arora and internationally renowned dancer and choreographer Prabhu Deva, the latter of whom was the only performer to receive as much attention from the crowd as Trump.
Kumar said the costs of the event were being handled by the Kumar family and the RHC, and that all proceeds from the ticket sales and sponsorship buys were being donated to those who have suffered from terrorist events in the war-torn region of Kashmir.
How those funds were to reach Kashmir is still in the works, Kumar said, without revealing how much was raised.
At a media briefing backstage, Kumar refused any questions related to Trump, and only allowed questions related to the fundraising event.
Attendees of the event included South Asians who were American citizens, as well as immigrants ineligible to vote. The event was originally slated for a larger venue, the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, but was downgraded just days before the event. Passers-by were handed free tickets at the door.
One of those event attendees was Tina Hulsman, who was surprised and excited to find out she could attend an event featuring Trump for free. She was nearby attending another expo.
Asked what she thought of his attendance, Hulsman said: “I think it’s excellent, because they are Americans, too. We are all Americans. This is why I feel we are so divided in our country. The Constitution reads ‘We the people’ not we Hindu, we white, we black. We are all the people.”
The event was hailed as historic by the RHC for being the first time a presidential candidate attended an Indian event.
“I am a big fan of Hindu,” Trump told the crowd. “If I am elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House.”
But Trump’s presence didn’t sit well with Democratic South Asians and New Jersey state and federal politicians, who protested outside the venue, the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center, against both Trump’s presence and the event’s location in New Jersey.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) told the crowd of more than 50 that, as a proud Hindu and New Jersey native, he welcomed Trump to “waste his time” in the state to attempt to garner support.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) said, “There’s no reason for anyone in the South Asian community to vote for him, and I don’t think many are.”
Other protesters said that Trump was trying to exploit hate and fear in order to gain votes.
A recent poll showed roughly 7 percent of Indian-Americans are registered Republican.
A recent New York Times article reported that many Indians who are voting for Trump are those who voted for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Dhiren Amin, chairman of the Indian Business Association, said that isn’t true.
He supported Modi, but does not support Trump, and said he knows individuals attending the Trump event who were voting for Hillary Clinton.
“Modi believes in action. He’s very straightforward. I don’t have any comparison between Modi and Trump at all,” Amin said, pointing to Modi as someone who respects women, compared with Trump, who has recently faced criticism for crude remarks about women as well as accusations of lewd behavior.
Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) and some Middlesex County officials were at the rally, as well as representatives for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy.
The rally was hosted by South Asian Democrats for Hillary, and a variety of Democratic groups representing Indians, Muslims and Pakistanis.