Several groups working on raising political profile of Indian-Americans

Immigrants from India first arrived in the United States in small numbers during the early 19th century, primarily as low-skilled farm laborers. In recent decades the population has grown substantially, with 2.4 million Indian immigrants resident in the United States as of 2015. This makes the foreign born from India the second-largest immigrant group after Mexicans, accounting for almost 6 percent of the 43.3 million foreign-born population.

In 1960, just 12,000 Indian immigrants lived in the United States, representing less than 0.5 percent of the 9.7 million overall immigrant population. Migration from India swelled between 1965 and 1990 as a series of legislative changes removed national-origin quotas, introduced temporary skilled worker programs, and created employment-based permanent visas. In 2016, Indians were the top recipients of high-skilled H-1B temporary visas and were the second-largest group of international students in the United States.

Today, the majority of Indian immigrants are young and highly educated, and have strong English skills. Many work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. From 1980 to 2010, the population grew more than eleven-fold, roughly doubling every decade (see Figure 1). In 2013, India and China supplanted Mexico as the top sources of newly arriving immigrants in the United States.

Along with the success stories in the academic, business and high-skilled jobs along with one of the highest income groups, Indian Americans have come to celebrate,  the unprecedented successes in the recent elections, specifically the November 2017 polls, a group of Indian American philanthropists, community leaders, and political operatives have come together to formally launch initiatives to keep things headed in the right direction.

The group has launched the Indian American Impact Project and the Indian American Impact Fund — collectively known as “Impact” — to build a nationwide pipeline of Indian American leaders in politics, policy and government

Impact, co-founded by Raj Goyle, chief executive officer of Bodhala and former member of the Kansas state House, and Deepak Raj, chairman of Pratham USA and founder of the Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies at Columbia University, the new initiatives will help talented and patriotic Indian Americans run for office, win and lead, it said.

“Despite rapid growth and professional success, for too long Indian Americans have been underrepresented in elected office from state capitols to the U.S. Congress,” said Goyle in a statement. “As a result, our needs, concerns, and priorities often go unheard in the halls of power. At a time when our community and our values are under attack by xenophobic rhetoric and regressive policies, it is more critical than ever that Indian Americans build and wield political power to fight back.”

The Impact Project and Impact Fund was formally launched Jan. 17. It is based in Washington, D.C. and is co-founded by former Kansas Democratic State lawmaker Raj Goyle, currently the CEO of Bodhala, a company that helps the legal community optimize operations, and Deepak Raj, chairman of the well-known non-profit Pratham USA and founder of the Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies at Columbia University.

Both initiatives are led by Gautam Raghavan, who previously served as vice president of policy for the Gill Foundation, as an Advisor in the Obama White House, and in various roles for the 2008 Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee.

“Despite rapid growth and professional success, for too long Indian Americans have been underrepresented in elected office from state capitols to the U.S. Congress,” Goyle is quoted saying in the press release. “As a result, our needs, concerns, and priorities often go unheard in the halls of power. At a time when our community and our values are under attack by xenophobic rhetoric and regressive policies, it is more critical than ever that Indian Americans build and wield political power to fight back,” he added.

As of January 2018, five Indian Americans currently serve in the United States Congress: Senator Kamala Harris, D-California; and Representatives Ami Bera, D-California, Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, Ro Khanna, D-California, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois.

Impact said it is also tracking an additional 60 Indian-Americans currently serving in state and local office as state legislators, mayors, city council members, judges, and other elected positions.

The Impact Project Board of Directors includes Priya Dayananda, managing director of Federal Government Affairs for KPMG LLP, Vinai Thummalapally, former U.S. Ambassador to Belize and former executive director of SelectUSA, and Mini Timmaraju, executive director of External Affairs at Comcast and former National Women’s Vote Director for Hillary for America.

The Impact Fund Board of Directors includes Ravi Akhoury, former chairman and CEO of MacKay Shields LLC, and Raghu Devaguptapu, partner at Left Hook Strategies and former political director for the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). Vikas Raj, managing director of Accion Venture Lab, will serve as a non-voting observer on both boards.

“This is our time,” said Raj. “Across the country, a record number of Indian Americans are running for office. We can’t leave it to chance that they will win on their own. We owe them our support — and we have a plan to help them run, win, and lead.”

Indiaspora, another grp with similar objectives, is one of the most influential Indian American organizations in recent years. It has announced the appointment of Mumbai-born Sanjeev Joshipura, 42, as executive director. Joshipura previously served as director of the group founded and chaired by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and community activist M.R. Rangaswami.

Indiaspora is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit organization which says it serves as “a platform to facilitate U.S.-India bilateral relations and trilateral ties with select countries, increasing Indian-American community engagement, and redefining philanthropy among Indian Americans.” It provides a network of Indian-Americans and Indian leaders.

“It is my privilege to work for this organization, whose mission and values I truly believe in, and whose members I enjoy interacting with daily,” said Joshipura. “Indiaspora has achieved a lot since its inception in 2012, and I look forward eagerly to working with and leading the team to even greater heights moving forward.”

“I can guarantee that you will not see MR on a golf course anytime soon,” Joshipura said. “He is far too passionate about the causes he is involved with to hang up his boots just yet.” He said his priorities in 2018 are in two areas. “First, fostering closer trilateral relationships among prominent Indian-Americans, Indians and leaders from third countries which have a large Indian diaspora, and/or have tremendous potential for collaboration in specific fields of activity. And, second, being a catalyst for effective philanthropy,” he said.

In 2017, the organization held a second gala to celebrate five Indian Americans who were elected to the House and Senate: Reps. Ami Bera and Ro Khanna, D-California; Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington; Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois; and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California. The organization has raised more than $500,000 to bring two additional staffers on board, in addition to Joishipura, and Mansi Patel, who serves as marketing manager.

The organization is also launching a broad philanthropy study to determine how Indian Americans give back to India. Indiaspora is working with several NGOs to “better tell the India story, with the aim of getting more donor dollars to India,” said Rangaswami.

“There are not enough resources for anybody who happens to be Indian-American to win. There needs to be obviously criteria and we have that. And, in having people like Raghu [Devaguptapu], Mini [Timmaraju], Priya [Dayananda], Gautam [Raghavan] and obviously myself, we have a considerable amount of people of political talent and expertise associated with the organization.”

He called running for office “a brave and difficult thing to do. So we applaud anyone who is willing to step up and give it a shot. However, we also want to help prospective candidates think strategically about when, how, where, and why they are running for office so they are best positioned to win.”

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