Indian Americans Prominence In US Politics

Today Indian-Americans dominate and occupy almost all the highest echelons of positions in the United States of America. In fact, there’s not a single academic, scholastic, scientific, medical or research position that’s beyond the reach of them

By M R Dua
  • The population of Indians living in the US increased by nearly 10 lakh in the last 8 year
  • Asian Indians were listed as a separate ethnic category for the first time in the 1980 US Census
  • There are nearly 2 lakh Indian students at any given time studying in US colleges and universities
  • In American slang, they are nicknamed as ‘Desis’, ABCD – American Born Confused Desis

AMERICA is called the ‘nation of immigrants.’ Among the immigrant-naturalised US citizens, Chinese are on the top — 4.1 million; the Philippines’ population is No. 2 position- 3.59 million, and Indians at No 3 totaling 3.34 million. Mere mention of being an Indian professor teaching in a top American university, or being senior faculty in a reputed medical institute in New York or Boston or Chicago does not raise eye-brows anymore.  At 4 million, Indian-Americans constitute nearly 2 percent (as of 2020) of the US population. Indian-Americans dominate and occupy almost all the highest echelons of positions in this country. 

The population of Indians living in the US increased by nearly 10 lakh in the last decade. Asian Indians were listed as a separate ethnic category for the first time in the 1980 US Census. There were only 3,61,544 Indians in the country then. By 1990, the US had 1 million Indians. After three decades, that number has swelled to 4 million.

The most important areas being STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics especially in The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and California’s Silicon Valley technology companies. There are nearly 2 lakh Indian students at any given time studying in US colleges and universities, mostly in the STEM subjects. In American slang, they’re nicknamed as ‘Desis’, ABCD – American Born Confused Desis. 

My 16-year-old granddaughter proudly asserts: “I’m not just Indian, I’m not just American. I’m Indian-American.’’ She enthusiastically joins all American national functions. For example, when the United States celebrated its 246th independence anniversary, last month, July 4, many Indian-Americans joined in all states’ and national functions with abundant elan and energy. Indian-Americans, as a cohesive, well connected though it’s,  celebrate the  Independence Day,  with all the big pomp and shows in all major cities like Boston, New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles,  Chicago, etc on  August 13th or 14th – (both holidays, like a Saturday or Sunday, as it happens to be in this year) and it’s done two or three days before, the specific August 15th itself. Though this day (August 15) is not a holiday here. I attended one in Boston some years ago. The show included: Punjabi bhangra, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Assamese, Rajasthani music, and dances.Typically regional food and dishes from all parts of india are served by local shopkeepers. It’s a big show.

The White House also supports India’s national festivals like Deepawali, the Republic Day and Independence Day. 

RISE IN POLITICS

In fact, there’s not a single academic, scholastic, scientific, medical or research position that’s beyond the reach of Indian-Americans. Indian-Americans have shown a promising economic profile in the 2020 Census, and their influence is growing in the political arena as well. Now they occupy positions of dominance and power in political offices.

However, it was in the 2020 US Presidential Elections when the India-origin-Jamaican woman was elected as the Vice-President of America – it seemed to be a unique distinction in the 246-year history of the United States. Kamala (Gopalan) Harris is the first Asian-African-Indian-Black American woman ever elected to the United States’ second highest national political office. 

November 4, 2020, will go down as perhaps the most remarkably, surpassingly memorable day in the history of the United States of America when Kamala (Gopalan) Harris was declared elected as the Vice-President of the United States of America. But that’s not all.

Enormously overwhelmed and overawed by the Indian-Americans’ meritorious sturdiness, their academic excellence, professional veracity, and their unhinged sincerity that President Joseph R Biden, speaking on the future of the very fast extending Indo-US relations recently underlined: “It doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t make much of a difference whether Democrats or Republicans are in power in Washington DC.” 

The Americans have had problems in the past with Communists and also with Middle Eastern nations regardless of whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in power. As for India is concerned, the Americans see India as a low-cost labour pool and a huge market of moneyed middle class people. America’s attitude towards India may not change much. It’s seen as doubtful trying to cozying up with the US too much. Russia is believed to be a true and great friend, and India must expand and enhance defence capabilities with more purchases from Moscow, but not ignoring the US actions or moves against India.

Kamala (Gopalan) Harris is the first Asian-African-Indian-Black American woman ever elected to the United States’ second highest national political office 

Whatever may be the quality and intensity of the state of the Indo-US ties at any given time, the reality is that some of Biden’s top men and women who have regularly visited India include foreign and national security officials.

Meanwhile, since Vice President Kamala Harris, 57, took office some 20 months ago, she has completely redefined the place and crucial role of this deemed-to-be rather less flashy, glittering, charismatic office in the nation’s political hierarchy.

But ever since she has adorned this position, Kamala Harris has added brand new emanation to it. In fact, she appears to be much more performing, devoted and concerned about the job. And it will be appropriate to say that Harris is an ideal symbol of the second-fastest growing (Indian-American-African) community’s sharply rising status in America. And, as The New York Times has put it most appositely: “The Vice President has diligently worked alongside the President coordinating with partners, allies and the Democratic members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to advance the goals of this (Joseph R Biden) administration.”

Besides being a former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, Kamala Harris was like Biden’s late son, Beau’s law enforcement official; she is bound to adopt a tough stance in handling her portfolio.

She ran many successful rallies and also did a commendable job in fighting the coronavirus campaign shoulder to shoulder with the President. However, it’s widely believed that the media coverage of her overall work performance has been disproportionate than any of her 48 predecessors who “were all white and male.’’ But there is no doubt that being the first woman of colour in the No. 2 status of the major national party, there are elephantine expectations from her from innumerable social, cultural, and of course political agents from all over the country. 

INDIAN-US CONGRESSMEN 

Four Indian-American members of Congress — all in the US House of Representatives. Though Indians are a highly diversified group of people from all parts of India, they’re a prodigiously articulate, highly educated, politically alert and belonging to the upper strata of American society.  

AMI BERA: Ami Bera is a prominent Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives from the state of California since 2012. His parents migrated to the US from Rajkot, Gujarat, in 1958. Ami was born in Los Angeles, March 2,1965. He studied medicine (BS, MD) at the University of California, Irvine. Medical doctor by profession, Ami Bera was director of a healthcare company; he also taught at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, 2005 to 2012.

He and his wife Janine, have one daughter. He has been a great supporter of the Sikh community, dominant in his constituency. He has endorsed political issues like environment, healthcare, India-US relations. Bera has been an active member of the American Sikh Congressional caucus, Asian-American caucus, Climate change. In addition, he has also been a vehement espouser and defender of the global anti-terrorism campaign.

RO KHANNA: The 46-year-old Rohit Khanna, also from California state, is an ardent supporter of the strong India-US ties. He was recently in the news for introducing a legislative amendment in the US House of Representatives ‘’seeking waiver to India against the punitive Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) – sanctions for its purchase of the S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, underlining that this will strengthen US-India defence ties and deter aggressors.’’ 

Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) – is a tough US law that authorises the US administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections. Khanna drew US’s attention to the fact that India faces immediate needs to maintain a heavy Russian- built weapons system, and hence urgent waiver to acquire the defence system. 

Meanwhile, Ro Khanna, grandson of a Punjabi freedom fighter, the late Amarnath Vidya Alankar, a fellow freedom fighter of Lala Lajpat Rai, represents California’s Silicon Valley’s tech universe in the US House of Representatives. He’s a member of the House committees on agriculture, armed forces and some other committees and sub-committees. Born in Philadelphia, both his parents immigrated to the US in the 1970s. Ro Khanna taught economics at Stanford University before entering politics. As a student in Chicago University, he worked for Barack Obama’ campaign for election to the Illinois state senate. ‘He and his wife call Fremont, California, home’. He has authored a couple books on entrepreneurial economics.

Ro Khanna was recently in the news for introducing a legislative amendment in the US House of Representatives ‘seeking waiver to India against the punitive Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Raja Krishnamoorthi of the Democratic party represents Illinois state’s eighth district. Fifty-year-old Congressman  was born in Delhi, on July 19, 1973, earned bachelor’s degree in engineering from Princeton University and a law degree from Harvard law school. He and his wife have three children. He serves on various committees and sub-committees, including the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; he is the assistant whip for the Democratic caucus. He’s also the founder-chairman of both the bipartisan Congressional and the bipartisan solar caucus. He is the co-sponsor of the legislation to strengthen the US’s relationship with the Armenian nation, and its security.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Pramila Jayapal is the Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives from Washington. She is the first South Asian Indian-American woman to be elected to the House. She’s serving the third term in the Congress representing Washington’s seventh district. She is ‘committed to ensuring that every resident of the district has economic opportunity ; fairness and equity ; and safe and healthy community life. Jayapal is a member of the House Judiciary Committee; she also serves on the House Education and Labour and Budget Committees. She is the Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus which represents about 40% of the entire Democratic caucus.

Pramila Jayapal has been a leader on immigration, and crafting legislation to create a fair and humane immigration system. She is the champion for legislation to address income inequality and minimum wages and collective bargaining rights of the workers. She has authored some landmark pieces of progressive legislation, Dignity for Detained Immigration Act. 

She is married to labour leader and strategist Steve Williamson. She earned her MBA from Northwestern University. She has authored two books titled ‘Pilgrimage to India: A Woman Revisits Her Homeland’ and ‘Use The Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change.’ She is the mother of a transgender daughter, named Kashika, step-son Michael. She is extremely articulate in public affairs and is often on most national television networks.

Cholleti Vinay Reddy is the first Indian American speechwriter of  President  Joe Biden. Reddy is considered an honourable member of the Biden White House fraternity

INDIANS MAKING MARK IN AMERICA
Judged from a distance of thousands of miles away from India, Indian-Americans are a large cohesive, well-knit community and the third largest immigrant community prospering and occupying top-notch positions in the United States

FANTASTIC, unbelievable, indeed singularly towering contributions are being rendered by Indian-Americans incessantly in multifarious areas of human endeavours, such as higher education, scientific research, medical practice, business, yoga…living in diverse parts of the United States for umpteen number of years.

Judged from a distance of thousands of miles away from India, Indian-Americans are a large cohesive, well-knit community. Being the third largest immigrant community, they are the most prosperous, highly educated and occupy a top-notch position in the United States. An Indian researcher Devesh Kapur has done an extensive study on the community. Presented here is only a specimen of some noted representatives of various sections of the Indian-American community.

S Shyam Sundar

Meet S Shyam Sundar. He is a professor of media ethics and founding director of the media effects research laboratory at Pennsylvania State University’s college of communications. He is also the director of the centre for socially responsible artificial intelligence, an interdisciplinary consortium at the PSU. 

His primary research expertise includes studying the uses and effects of digital media; the psychology of human-computer/human-robot interaction; and, social and psychological aspects of artificial intelligence. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in communication and engineering. Shyam Sundar is a theorist and experimentalist; his main investigations concern social and psychological effects of human-computer interaction, and computer-mediated communication and received several awards for his research. 

He has authored several books on communication and published research papers in learned American communication journals. He’s widely travelled in the US and abroad. Speaking of media as a news provider, Shyam Sundar opines that the times are changing and ‘we get more news from our friends rather than professional sources.’ That’s why, he asserts, ‘fake news is believed more when it’s presented in a video modality compared to audio form, or text only, we need more proactive artificial intelligence-based tools that can stop fake news in its tracks, and stop it from going viral.’

Besides being passionate about communication and artificial theorist, Sundar believes, besides being that ‘to be productive in academic work, we must have a rich non-academic life.’ He enjoys being a Jazz DJ for a local radio station. 

Sohan L

Coming from a lower middle class of an ordinary Punjabi family, Sohan L, MD, FCA, is a Unique case of a golden boy from among the rolling stones. He had an average schooling record from Delhi. But, as he says, once he was made aware of his latent interest in medicine, he began competing for a seat in a medical school in Delhi, the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences. And, when he made it in August 1962, he was on Cloud Nine. But, as ill luck would have, his father passed away. Extremely disheartened by any chance of becoming a doctor, his family members, who hardly had any source of income to support his dreams. But, he didn’t lose heart and carried on somehow.

It was a cold December evening in 1967 when he announced that he was selected for higher studies and training in the USA in nephrology. And today, he is a reputed name in his chosen speciality, nephrology and a top kidney specialist in the state of California. He has set up a medical clinic of his own, where his daughter, also a nephrologist, leads a team of doctors — all nephrologists.

Now in his late 70s, Sohan is profusely content with what he has achieved in life. “I would, perhaps, not have been able to do as well if I had stayed back in India’’, he told me with a big, broad, satisfying smile on his face. Continuing, he added: “I feel fortunate to have received the best education from the top medical school in India. At the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, there was significant exposure to American education. I got financial support for travel to the US right after my graduation. The journey that started in my youth is still continuing with a lot of education, personal growth and unlimited life experience. Initially, there was a sudden awakening of personal freedom and financial independence with access to basic needs of life that may have taken years to accomplish had I stayed back in India!

‘’Merging into the American system, whether it was social and or education, there was no end to open opportunities, such as furthering my education which obviously became the main focus, to begin with. Inevitable exposure to the best universities was truly enlightening and furthered my access to some brains in my field of medicine to bring me where I am today.” 

Visits to my family became a fun part through growing bonds with my adopted country became irresistible. Very soon, I was a family man, raising a family of three kids who are now family people in their own right. They’ve become a new joy that’s inseparable from my life,” Dr Sohan added.

Pamela Kwatra

But here’s a woman of many parts who has spent a lifetime telling American people about the glorious, trail-blazer culture of India and its much-splendored civilization. Meet Pamela Kwatra. Pam, as she is informally addressed by friends and relatives, says she has been a loyal American citizen, but her love for ‘mother India’ hasn’t dimmed one bit. In fact, it has redoubled, she solemnly said, in a wistful mood. Pam’s services in promoting Indian art and culture too have been highly appreciated and lauded. Pamela is associated with a large number of local social welfare bodies.  

Pamela is the first Indian woman to receive the US Congressional Ellis Island Medal of Honour in 2008; she is also the recipient of ‘The Mother Teresa award in 2011. As president of Kripari Marketing, Pamela liaises with major American corporations and the Indian-American community. 

She’s also a member of the Association of Indians in America and was appointed a member of the board of directors by the Mayor of New York for government relations. She was voted NRI of the Month of January 2003 by National Magazine “NRI Today”. Pamela is married to an engineer, Lall Kwatra. They have one son who is well settled in business and lives in New York.

Addagiri Krishnarao

Addagiri Krishnarao’s story is a great tale of a modest cook’s dream of doing business in America. Addagiri Krishnarao was working as a cook in a godforsaken small town of Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh in the 1980s. A close friend in the town requested him to help him to set up a restaurant in California’s town of San Ramon. Recently married to a shy 20-year-old Pramila, an unsure Krishnarao hesitantly accepted the offer. But being merely a high school pass, in the heart of his heart, he was not sure he’ll be able to rise to the occasion in a strange place, where only English was the medium of communication. However, his friend encouraged him to take a plunge. And, this half-decisive plunge opened up a vast new era of abundant happiness, prosperity and wealth for Krishnarao. After working in the restaurant for nearly two decades, he decided to set up his self-owned similar restaurant. And, thus was born flourishing, roaring, “Hyderabad Biryani House ‘’ in the sprawling San Ramon Shopping Centre in California.

Now patronised by customers from all sections of the local population, it is a very well-established, reputed eatery. The (Hyderabadi) Biryani is a dish named after the formerly princely state of Hyderabad in south India. ‘Biryani’ is a luscious, delectable, flavoursome dish whose ingredients include India’s special variety of Basmati rice. It’s cooked with chicken, mutton and locally available popular vegetables flavoured with especially cherished and sought-after Indian spices. When 62-year-old Krishnarao and his wife, Pramila Addagiri, set up this establishment in 1984, they would personally supervise the kitchen to maintain a high-quality aura of all dishes to be able to earn the clients’ sustained patronage. Krishnarao has a comfortable, happy life, a good house and has earned enough to buy half a dozen houses in California and in Atlanta, Georgia. Their two daughters have had good top school and college education. ‘We also feel extremely happy that our younger daughter is married. They have two kids and are happily settled in their own house,’’ he told me, putting out a profusely satisfied person’s stance. 

KEY POSITIONS IN BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

In addition, more than four dozen positions that Indian-Americans populate in the Biden White House. Also, there are several key positions of national and international import in the Biden administration that have been entrusted to Indian-Americans.

Cholleti Vinay Reddy is the first Indian American speechwriter of  President  Joe Biden. Reddy is considered an honourable member of the Biden White House fraternity. His roots originate from Pothireddy Peta, a rural village in the Indian state of Telangana.

Born in Bedford, Massachusetts to immigrant parents from India, Neera Tanden is a Senior Adviser to President Joe Biden named as White House Staff Secretary. She is the president of the Centre for American Progress, where she has served in different capacities since 2003.

Dr Vivek Murthy is the first Surgeon General of Indian descent. Murthy was also  a top health adviser to the Biden campaign. He was part of Biden’s public health advisory committee as the pandemic first took hold in the US and served as a co-chair of the President-elect’s Covid-19 advisory board during the transition. 

Vanita Gupta is the 19th United States Associate Attorney General and serves as the third-ranking official at the Department of Justice.

President Joe Biden picked Indian American Bharat Ramamurti as Director of U S National Economic Council. Ramamurti is one of the three new members of the National Economic Council that coordinates domestic and international economic policy making processes for the administration. Born in Massachusetts, Ramamurti is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.

Uzra Zeya is an American diplomat who has served as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights in the Biden Administration since July 2021. She is also a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. Uzra was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to immigrants from Bihar, India.

Pramila Jayapal has been a leader on immigration, and crafting legislation to create a fair and humane immigration system. She is the champion for legislation to address income inequality and minimum wages and collective bargaining rights of the workers

Garima Verma is a Digital Director in Office of the First Lady Jill Biden. Verma, who was born in India, grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. She served as an audience development and content strategist on the Biden-Harris campaign. Before joining the campaign, Garima Verma worked in the entertainment space, marketing films at Paramount Pictures and television shows at The Walt Disney Company’s ABC Network, and media agency Horizon Media.

Reema Shah works as Deputy Associate Counsel in White House. Shah had served on the debate preparation team for Joe Biden on the Biden-Harris Campaign. She was an associate at Latham & Watkins and a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General at the Department of Justice.

President Joe Biden named Neha Gupta as associate counsel at the Office of White House. Neha comes from a long line of social activists. Her maternal great-great-grandmother worked with Mahatma Gandhi to free India from Great Britain’s rule. 

Gautam Raghavan is a political advisor who is the Director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office. Raghavan previously served as the associate director of the Office of Public Liaison in the Obama administration.

Sonia Aggarwal is a Senior Advisor, Climate Policy. An expert on energy and climate change, Sonia led America’s Power Plan, bringing together 200 electricity policy experts, at Energy Innovation, of which she was a co-founder and Vice President, according to the biography from Biden’s transition team.

Tarun Chhabra is a Director for Technology, National Security Council. Born in Tennessee and raised in Louisiana, Chhabra is a first-generation American and a graduate of Stanford University, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School. During the Obama-Biden Administration, Chhabra served on the National Security Council staff as director for Strategic Planning and director for Human Rights and National Security Issues, and at the Pentagon as a speechwriter to the Secretary of Defence.

Mala Adiga, Policy director for First Lady Jill Biden, has Indian roots. Her parents had emigrated from Karnataka in 1960. Adiga was Director for Higher Education and Military Families at the Biden Foundation. During the Obama-Biden administration, Adiga served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programs at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues as Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the Ambassador-at-Large. Prior to that, she was Counsel to the Associate Attorney General in the Department of Justice.

Sabrina Singh is Special Assistant to President and White House Deputy Press Secretary in the Joe Biden administration. Singh served as the Press Secretary to Kamala Harris, the current Vice President of the United States, when Harris was California’s senator. Earlier, Singh was appointed as a National Spokesperson for Michael Bloomberg 2020 presidential campaign. 

Rohit Chopra is the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Nominated by President Joe Biden, Chopra was confirmed by the Senate on 30th September, last year. In this role, Chopra leads the CFPB to ensure consumers are educated and protected in the use of financial products and services offered in the market.

There are quite a few American Indians in junior positions in various government departments.

M R DUA

The author was a professor and head of print journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, for nearly two decades. He also taught journalism at different universities in California, Calicut, and Chandigarh. He was editor of publications, Union Labour Ministry. He was also director of JIMS, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, and Institute of Media, Gurugram. He has authored five books on media issues. His writings have appeared in national newspapers, magazines, and media research journals in India and USA.

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