Will Kamala Harris change America’s story?
By Hari Jaisingh
The multi-dimensional strength of the world’s two powerful democracies came alive at a virtual campaign event on August 15 to commemorate India’s 74th Independence Day when presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden passionately said that he would stand with India in confronting the threats along its borders. This was a clear signal to China and Pakistan. He added that he would have “an honest conversation” with India on various issues as “close friends”.
This should be reassuring for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has completely identified himself with President Donald Trump. Earlier this year, the big event at Ahmedabad exhibited the Trump-Modi bonhomie. President Trump recently even boasted of “having more Indians” than Kamala Harris. However, it is no secret that Indian Americans have mostly voted Democrat in the past. According to the 2018 Asian American Voter Survey, 50 percent of Indian Americans are left leaning. Indo-US differences relating to issues concerning the Greater Middle East region can scarcely be kept under wraps. What has been particularly disappointing for New Delhi is President Trump’s repeated offers to mediate on Kashmir. The issue of Kabul vis-à-vis Islamabad has also remained divisive and has defied US efforts to bring it under control.
The Indian diaspora in America has made a mark in the fields of medicine, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As per the authors of the book, The Other One Percent: Indians in America, even though people of Indian origin account for only 1 percent of the American population, they own one third of the start-ups in Silicon Valley and account for 8 percent of the founders of high-tech firms. In addition, at least half of all motels are owned by Indians, of which 70 percent are owned by the Patel community from Gujarat3 . All this is a clear reflection of the entrepreneurial spirit and the ethos of hard work of the Indian American community.
There are an estimated 4 million Indian Americans and 2.5 million will be eligible to vote in the upcoming election. Of these, 1.3 million, or more than 50 percent, belong to the eight key states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
Indian American community also has a higher median annual household income as compared to other ethnic groups4 and therefore a greater capacity to fund the Biden-Harris campaign. In fact, the Indian American advocacy group IMPACT has already announced that it plans to raise USD 10 million in its quest to achieve a more inclusive democracy.
Interestingly, the Democratic presidential candidate has come out with an exclusive policy document for Indian Americans. This has happened for the first time in America’s electoral history and marks the importance of the Indian American community as formidable voters in American society.
Joe Biden’s policy agenda states that there can be “no tolerance for terrorism in South Asia, cross-border or otherwise”. The potential new administration also promises to “work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region” and underlines the longstanding belief that India and the US are “natural partners”. Strengthening Indo-US relationship would be a top priority for the Biden administration, which also promises to increase the number of “visas for permanent work-based immigration”.
Clearly, Democrats are making every possible effort to woo Indian Americans. In his first remarks to the Indian American community after he chose Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate, whom he has described as well-suited for the role she is expected to play as Vice President, Biden said that both countries are “democracies with diversity”, which is a “mutual strength”.
It is indeed so. Democracy demands an open mind on controversial matters.
Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, also spoke at the virtual event organized by South Asia for Biden. She fondly talked about Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and India’s freedom struggle. She also said that the South Asian diaspora was closely bound by common principles such as “tolerance, pluralism and diversity” – principles that have been shaped by moving beyond colonial pasts, “not only in one nation but in two”.
Prime Minister Modi ought to take the utterances of Ms. Harris seriously since the questions of religious tolerance and pluralism under the Modi regime has often been raised by some American leaders and critics.
In a country that is badly caught up in a triple crisis – a pandemic, racial injustice and policing, and a ravaged economy with an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent, the emergence of Harris in American public life is significant. Harris’s African American heritage and Indian American links mean a lot in today’s changing profile of America. A US Senator from California, Kamala Harris has already made history as the first woman of colour to have tapped a key position in the US system amidst a cohort of strong candidates such as former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts.
In her long career, Kamala Harris has already established herself as a class apart. This has been acknowledged by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Says Senator Sanders that she “understands what it takes to stand up for working people, fight for health care for all and take down the most corrupt administration in history”. Her identity in American politics is seen against Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant stance. Further, Harris has already made a name for herself as a crusader for criminal justice reform. Following the killings of African Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police, Ms. Harris co-sponsored the Senate’s Justice in Policing Act in June, as well as a bill to make lynching a federal crime.
The daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, Ms. Harris has very much been part of the American upheaval on police violence and racial disparities. “We are experiencing a moral reckoning with racism and systemic injustice that has brought a new coalition of conscience to the streets of our country demanding change”, Kamala says.
Biden has said that Ms. Harris’ story as a child of immigrants and woman of colour, who fought her way up to the top ranks of the US legal and political circles, would inspire the country. “Her story is America’s story. She worked hard (and) she has never backed down from a challenge”, says Biden.
Indeed, Kamala Harris’ success story, in a way, speaks of the success stories of the many Indian Americans in different fields of American society. Currently, the Biden-Harris duo has a nationwide lead over the Trump-Pence team. Whom the voters favour will be known in under two months. It is a guessing game till then!
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