The coming of age of the Indian American community is more evident in the new year than ever before, especially after experiencing unprecedented political success in the general elections and assuming office in the nnewly inaugurated US Congress and Senate.
Forbes reports that, during last year’s elections, four of its members – Ro Khanna (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) – were elected to the United States Congress, while a fifth, Representative Ami Bera (D-CA), won re-election to a third term. This represents the largest number of Indian Americans to ever serve in Congressional history. Also, elected was Kamala Karris, a first time Senator from the state of California, whose mother hails from India.
Judge Dilip Singh Saund became the first Asian American to be elected to Congress in 1956. Nearly four decades later, Bobby Jindal (R-LA) was elected to the House of Representatives from Louisiana before launching a successful gubernatorial bid in the state.
“ Indian Americans are approximately 1% of the U.S. population and for the first time ever they now make up 1% of the U.S. Congress ,” notes M.R. Rangaswami, the founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Indiaspora. “This doesn’t count the scores of Indian Americans senior staffers serving on Capitol Hill working for dozens of members on both sides of the aisle.”
Beyond the legislative branch, Donald Trump’s election to the White House is also proving a boon to some members of the community. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) has been tapped to become the first ever Indian American U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations while Indiana native Seema Verma has been nominated by the president-elect to run the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Several other Indian Americans are poised to receive presidential appointments in the new administration as well.
The recent slate of elections and appointments is a part of a relatively new, larger trend: the growing success of Indian Americans in the public service arena.
Forbes reports that since American immigration laws were liberalized in 1965, Indians traveled to the U.S. in record numbers and the Indian American community has become the wealthiest, most educated diaspora in the country. While they have dominated the medical, engineering and computer science industries for decades, Indian Americans are only recently experiencing a commensurate level of achievement in public life.
Until President Obama took office in January 2009, not a single Indian American had ever served as an American ambassador. Now there are two, Atul Keshap in Sri Lanka, and Richard Verma in India. “Both Keshap and Verma have earned consistent praise from across the political spectrum for their crucially important diplomatic work,” wrote Forbes.
Nisha Desai Biswal served as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs while her equally and widely respected deputy, Manpreet Anand, is also Indian American. Countless other exceptionally qualified Indian Americans have also served in varying levels across the Executive Branch and will continue to do so during the Trump Administration.
The Indian American community has also made its mark on the judiciary, said the report.
In 2013, Sri Srinivasan became the first Indian American appellate court judge after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Srinivasan was shortlisted by President Obama to replace Justice Anton Scalia on the Supreme Court following his unexpected death in 2016. Kentucky District Court Judge Amul Tharpar’s name has been floated as a possible contender for the vacancy under Donald Trump.
In addition to numerous local and state judges like Sanjay Tailor in Chicago’s Cook County, several Indian Americans are serving as so-called “Article III” judges, judges who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the US Senate.
“As Indian Americans have continued to succeed and prosper in the United States, their sense of commitment to the United States, desire to give back, and simultaneously strengthen and be a part of the fabric of the country has also grown as well,” Sanjeev Joshipura, director at Indiaspora, told Forbes.