Washington, DC: March 7, 201: The coming of age of the Indian American community is evident all over with the tiny less than 1% of the US population leading in several areas of American life. With the record number of Indian Americans holding high jobs in the Obama administration, many more are even trying to take an active role in the politics of the country by trying to get elected to public offices across the nation. They are the most affluent and best educated of any immigrant group in the country, according to Pew. They include doctors, engineers, tech entrepreneurs and educators, and form a rich donor base. However, Indian-Americans are more spread out than other ethnic groups, and Indian-American candidates in expensive races often have to go out of state to raise funds.
With only one sitting US Congressman of Indian origin in the US Congress, many more are now vying to enter the US Congress. Kamala Harris in California is expected to win the US Senate race in November. With veteran House of Delegates member Kumar Barve running for Congress in Maryland, and Rep. Ami Bera currently ensconced representing a congressional district in Northern California, if the stars align themselves fortuitously, the Indian American community could have many more members elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016.
The Indian American presence on the political stage was delayed until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which opened up the quotas preventing Indians from migrating to the United States and sharply increased the presence of Indians in America. Dalip Singh Saund was the first Indian American member of the House of Representatives, a Sikh who converted his PhD in math to a successful farming career in California, garnering support for a brief Congressional career. But the Indian American presence in Congress since then has been limited, the only blip being former Congressman—and the former governor of Louisiana—Bobby Jindal and the rising star in the Republican Party, Nikki Haley, the governor of North Carolina.
They lean strongly toward Democrats, yet two Republican governors, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, are of Indian descent. Harris will have to seek contributions to run in a state with some of the costliest media markets in the country. Asian-Americans could form a crucial part of her campaign.
Indian Americans are also aligning with presidential candidates of their choices across the nation. “By mid-March, we will have a clear Democratic nominee,” Indian American political activist Saif Khan, a volunteer for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign, told the media. “After ‘Super Tuesday,’ we will see a significant lead in delegates and the delegate allocation will show who the clear front runner is,” he said. Khan, an Iraq war veteran, is joining “Operation Rolling Victory,” a campaign initiative in which former war veterans come out to support Clinton at various rallies throughout the country. “When it comes to political contributions, that aspect of her identity will become important,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside.
People from New York and New Jersey have got busy this election year to give some time from work to party candidates. While it was difficult to get an exact count of how many Indian-American volunteers are working from the Tri-state area for the Democratic campaign, some young political activists, put the figure of leading volunteers in leadership roles close to 100. There are many others giving some of their time and energy to campaigns.
Sampat Shivangi, founder of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, has expressed disappointment over former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s decision to drop out of the race, following the Republican primary Feb. 20 in South Carolina. Bush had fared dismally throughout the battle, trailing far behind Republican contenders Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, a long-time supporter of the Bush family, also expressed dispaoointment: “I am very disappointed that Governor Bush has decided to get out of the race. I have great admiration for him. He is a fantastic human being.” Zachariah, also a long-time Republican Party leader, said he was “perplexed” as to how to move forward. “This is a new game. I have no idea what happens next.” “The extreme right wing of the Republican Party has hijacked the party. Trump is preying upon the angriest of people and dividing the electorate,” said Zachariah.
Calling Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump as the “best hope for America”, some Indian-Americans in the New York Tristate area have formed a Political Action Committee (PAC) to support and raise funds for him. Headed by Dr. AD Amar, a business professor with Seton Hall University in New Jersey, the ‘Indian-Americans for Trump 2016’ was registered as a PAC with the Federal Election Commission last month. Its sole goal is “to garner actively the support of all Americans, but particularly Indian-Americans, to have Donald J. Trump become the next President of the USA,” the PAC said in a press release.
Ash Kalra, a member of the San Jose City Council, is vying to become the first Indian-American elected to the California legislature. “The longer the Indian-American community has been in this country, the more it has matured,” Kalra said. “And part of that maturity is becoming more politically active.”
Last year, technology lawyer Ro Khanna, a Democrat, sought a seat in Congress, while former U.S. Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari, a Republican, ran for governor. Though both challenged popular incumbents and lost, their efforts are emblematic of the rise in Indian-American political engagement.
The election results could have major consequences for India and the Indian Americans. The average Indian American may be more interested in a US president who keeps the “golden door” open for immigrants, students and temporary hi-tech workers. They would also be reassured if the White House has a person who upholds traditional liberal democratic views on religious minorities and multiculturalism as a whole.
The populists in both parties, whether Trump or Sanders, have been the most vocal against migrants. Trump has targeted Muslims and Mexicans, Sanders H-1B visa workers. But their rhetoric would worry migratory birds the most. India, however, gets only a passing mention by even the most extreme candidates. Ultimately, says Twining, “the fact that India, unlike China, will not be an election issue should be reassuring to New Delhi.”
Says Sanjay Puri, head of the US-India Political Action Committee, “Indian-Americans tend to be more Democrats than Republicans and it has not changed much this election cycle, especially with Clinton running as she has long-standing relationships with the Indian-American community.” But, he notes, no candidate is allergic to Indians. “Each candidate has a support base in the Indian-American community.”