Rep. Ami Bera, Neera Tanden and Raja Krishnamoorthi, were among the three prominent Indian Americans, who took the stage before the 4,765 national delegates and the world during the Democratic Party Convention that ended in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28th. There were about 300 Asian American delegates and a “sizable” number of them were Asian Indians. There were also scores of Indian Americans volunteering at the convention.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, made an impassioned speech on Wednesday in support of the party candidate for president Hillary Clinton, declaring: “Hillary will always have our backing.” Congressman Ami Bera of California was presented as a leader reflecting the diversity of the Democratic Party in Congress. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is running for Congress from Illinois, came on stage as a “New Leader of Tomorrow.” He told the media about the moment in the party limelight: “I am thrilled.”
Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democratic Congressional candidate from Illinois, was introduced as one of the party’s emerging leaders during the Democratic National Convention. Krishnamoorthi, 42, is among only two Congressional candidates to have been invited on to the DNC stage here as the party’s rising star or emerging leader.
Krishnamoorthi, a lawyer and a technology and environmental entrepreneur, joked that he probably had a “mutant gene” that made him turn to politics in a community that focuses on careers in medicine, technology and education.
He said his family was in “dire economic straits” and had a difficult time when he was a baby, but the “generosity” of the United States helped them come out of it. “Ever since then, I have been wanting to make sure that others have a shot at the American dream” like his family, he said.
If elected, he would join Ami Bera in the US House of Representatives in the next Congress beginning January 2017. Bera, meanwhile, is seeking his third-term in the November general elections. Krishnamoorthi has the distinction of being endorsed by US President Barack Obama.
Congresswoman Grace Meng, the head of an influential Asian American political action committee, called at the Convention for supporting Krishnamoorthi and said the presence of the Asians in Congress would grow with his election. “From being a marginal minority, we can be the margin of victory,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus in Congress.
Neera Tanden would made her political debut in the US elections when she stood behind the lectern to address thousands of delegates of the Democratic party and its top leadership in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Tanden is a close confident of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, and highly speculated as a potential cabinet appointee in her administration. “I expect to have a full unified party over the next couple of day,” Tanden told reporters on the eve of her address to the Democratic National Convention. She was a key member of the Democratic Platform Committee. You will see in Hillary’s speech on Thursday really welcoming everyone and that includes Indian-Americans, includes South Asians and the great diversity of the country,” Tanden said.
Tanden spoke candidly of her family’s travails after her father divorced her mother when she was five and how the public safety net saved them and helped her eventually get an Ivy League law degree and to become Hillary Clinton’s adviser and play important roles in her campaigns.
According to a 2015 Pew Research study, 65 percent of people of Indian Americans lean Democratic and 18 percent Republican. Even though Indians are less than 1 percent of the US population, they can play a crucial role in the “battleground states” – the six or so states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio where both parties are almost evenly balanced – according to Toby Chudhuri, a former White House strategy and communications adviser. “There is no longer a mainstream, but many streams” in the US and it was important for the Indian American community to actively get involved in politics and have their voices heard, he said.
Others who made news with their presence at the convention included, an 18-year-old delegate from Iowa, Sruthi Palaniyappan, introduced her state delegation’s announcement of its votes during the Convention roll call Tuesday. She said that she “definitely” plans to run for public affairs. A Hillary delegate, she said she started at the local precinct level and worked her way up to get elected as a national delegate.
Neil Makhija, another delegate at the convention, is a candidate for State Representative in Pennsulvania. The 29-year-old said that while people are more focused on the presidential elections, issues that directly affect the people like education are decided at the state and local levels. That was why he was running for the state legislature.
Samai Kindra from Maryland has taken a year off after high school to work as an intern with the state Democratic Party working on mobilising people to register to vote.
Shefali Razdan Duggal, nominated member of the Rules Committee of the Democratic National Convention, said, she looked to the older generation to mobilize the youth, using their experience. she was “absolutely confident that every (Indian-American) delegate, from each state, is putting the entirety of their hearts into this very important moment of their lives,” adding, “They are representing candidates in, arguably, the most important election of our lifetime.”
With general election mode set in, and the primaries behind them, Indian Americans have founded organizations to rally support for Clinton and other candidates and to raise funds for campaigns. Indian Americans for Hillary Clinton (IAFHC) founded by Rajan Natarajan, said that presence of high political figures at their rallies was a sign of the recognition the Indian American community was now receiving from politicians. IAFHC Co-Chair Devang Shah explained how a small community like Indian Americans can play an outsize role in elections in the battleground states.
Shekhar Narasimhan has set up the Asian American Pacific Islander Victory Fund, which he said had raised $300,000 and has a target of $1.5 million. It will fund drives to mobilise voters in the six swing states and promote progressive candidates.
While the Republicans had a long paragraph on India in its platform during the GOP Convention in Ohio, the Democratic Party’s platform summed up its position on India along expected lines. “We will continue to invest in a long-term strategic partnership with India — the world’s largest democracy, a nation of great diversity, and an important Pacific power,” the platform said.
That was the only reference to India in the 51-page documents, indicating that the Indo-U.S. relations built on solid foundations of mutual cooperation and friendship, particularly during the years of Obama administration, are to continue even with a change in leadership in Washington.
In a telltale sign of the Democrats’ apparent interest in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the only world leader who appeared in the introduction video of President Barack Obama at the convention.
India’s Ambassador Arun K. Singh continued his outreach with American political leadership, and met with top Democratic lawmakers, including officials of the Hillary Clinton campaign, to underline the importance India attaches to Indo-U.S. relations. Singh, according to reports, was given rare access to the top leadership of the party, including to lawmakers like Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member of Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi as well as top Democratic lawmakers Nita Lowey, Frank Pallone, and Joe Crowley who is Vice Chair of Democratic Caucus and former co-chair of the House India Caucus. John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton’s Campaign and former counselor to President Barack Obama also met with Singh.
The reports said that top Indian-American community leaders attending the four-day national convention held a reception for Singh, “Chai and Chaat” which among others was attended by Senator Corry Booker, Ranking Member of Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guards. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is running for House of Representative race from Illinois, Raj Goyle, former Democratic Member of Kansas House of Representatives, were present at the event.
Singh in his address underscored the important role being played by Indian-American community in strengthening India U.S. ties. Singh also addressed another event titled “South Asians for Hillary” and attended a diplomatic reception by American Jewish Committee. On August 12, Indian American leaders will be meeting in Las Vegas to see how they can help put more of their community in public offices, according to one of the organizers of the meeting.