- With religion, faith and the candidate’s belief system and its alignment to Hinduism being the underlying premises for the evening, speakers shared how and why their personal and political values aligned to make him the right choice.
With the future of the Senate hanging in balance and the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff rapidly approaching, the Asian American bloc has stepped up their activities to turn out voters. With Asian Americans – especially Hindu Americans – proving instrumental in the Biden-Harris win, organizations and their outreach aimed at the Hindu American communities are making their presence felt in the Peach State.
One such event was the virtual Hindu American rally in support of Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, organized by the Georgia chapter of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), and They See Blue, Georgia, on Dec. 29.
With religion, faith and Rev. Warnock’s belief systems and its alignment to Hinduism being the underlying premises for the evening, speakers shared how and why their personal and political values aligned to make Warnock their choice for Senate.
Vyanti Joseph, AAPI director for the Warnock campaign, kicked off the evening with a video featuring the candidate emphasizing the importance of inclusivity of every voice in a “new Georgia.” Warnock urged people to use their voices and vote, stressing that a vote for him would be a vote for healthcare, jobs with a living wage and an education system that does not look at the income of parents, just the future of the child.
Joseph set the mood by highlighting her Hindu background and faith, growing up as a fourth generation Indian, tracing her roots to her immigrant great, great, great, grandparents, who left India for the Caribbean, to explain why she supports Warnock. She pointed out that everyone present at the virtual event were Americans who shared a common history and culture and a common set of values rooted in a Hindu upbringing, which Warnock exemplified.
Urging viewers to vote for Warnock, and stressing pride for her Hindu heritage, Joseph added that the cornerstone of her politics was this belief — fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves, who don’t have the voice — a principle that Warnock holds dear as well.
Next up, was panelist Subash Razdan, chairman of the Gandhi Foundation of USA. Recently, Razdan, who is counted amongst 500 of the most influential Asian Americans, was felicitated with the Dream Forward Community Service Award in the International Affairs award category on Jan. 14 at the King Center in Atlanta. Dream Forward Awards are an initiative by The King Center to recognize people and groups that have made significant impacts in their communities and those who work closely with The King Center.
Attired in a yellow kurta, Razdan, who was the architect for the India-Georgia Friendship Resolution, which was passed in the Georgia Senate and contributed to a sustaining relationship between the Peach State and the Republic of India, compared Warnock to Mahatma Gandhi. According to Razdan, Warnock’s principles and ideals of justice, pluralism, fairness, equality and governance, which emerged in full force during his campaign are similar to the Gandhian tenets.
Razdan also thanked Warnock for his friendship toward the Indian American community, pointing out that the Reverend and the Ebenezer Baptist Church had participated in numerous events along with the Indian American community at the Gandhi statue, a stone’s throw from the church. One of the instances that Razdan highlighted occurred in 2012, after the brutal massacre at a Sikh Gurudwara in Wisconsin. And at very short notice, Rev. Warnock delivered a very meaningful and symbolic message to the community at an interfaith condolence meeting at the King Center Freedom Hall auditorium. Razdan summed up his speech by echoing the hopes of many that Warnock secured his Senate seat bid.
Next, to speak was Pandit Praful Desai, a priest at the Santan Mandir in Smyrna, Georgia. In 1973, Desai also founded the Oklahoma City Indian Association in Oklahoma. Reminiscing about starting the group while in college, Desai said that after much dialogue he concluded that Indian Americans wanted to assimilate in this “great country” and in American culture, but at the same time, wanted to maintain their unique Hindu identity. Pointing out even after four decades, this has been difficult to achieve, he was gratified to see the community, almost a 100,000 of them in Georgia, coming together under the Biden-Harris win and under Warnock’s vision for Georgia, which in his opinion, reflects Hindu values.
Echoing Razdan’s sentiments, Desai pointed out that Warnock in certain ways, represented the idea of dharma in the Hindu context – that inexplicable something which holds a person or a community together. Desai said that Warnock’s idea of compassion, unconditional love, selfless service, human dignity and inclusion – universal values that enrich human life and community – those aspects were reminiscent of aspects of dharma, and as such very endearing to Desai in particular and Hindu Americans in general.
Desai, “a practicing Hindu,” pointed out that he had undertaken a spiritual journey over the last eight years and political involvement had been a non-no for him. Stressing the importance of voting Democrat, Desai pointed out that the last few years of discord and unrest the country had borne witness to had compelled him to engage. Desai ended his speech by reminding all present that just as he had found Rev. Warnock to be the best man for the job – to represent not only him but Hindus in this country and their values in government – and voted for him, so must they all. He also thanked his daughter for “nudging him gently” to get active in civic engagement.
Dr. Maulik Patel, a geriatric and internal medicine physician in Savannah, Georgia, and a “life long Hindu devotee,” took to the virtual podium after Desai. Patel, in his orange kurta and vermillion tikka, pointed out that second-generation immigrants are more motivated to engage in their civic duty, but many a time, are unclear on the issues. Sharing his story, Patel said that his entry point into politics was when his spiritual guru met former President Obama in 2017. Their discussion, which led to the realization that there was a need for more Hindu American engagement in civic duty. Seen as a sort of a service, Patel quoted a sentence from the former Indian President. Dr. Abdul Kalam’s book “Transcendence,” which represents Warnock in his opinion – “Those who wish to sincerely serve society must be spiritually pure, and only those who are spiritually pure must sincerely serve society.”
Drawing parallels between Warnock’s sermons from the pulpit and these fundamental values, integral to Hindu Americans that the community would like to see embodied in their candidates, Patel pointed out that what is critical now is that whoever is in that Senate seat has the interests of Hindu Americans, Asian Americans and other minorities at heart – because that person will bring decisions made in Washington, D.C. back to these 100,000 Georgia households.
Patel stressed the values that Hindu Americans cherish today – being in America and celebrating cultural diversity without “negative tone or language” – values that Warnock would ensure.
Uma Pulendran, a Bharatanatyam dancer, and artistic director for Natya Dhaara – Center for Performing Arts and a public health researcher, spoke to the audience. Pulendran is an Independent that has always voted Democratic as she “believes that is what aligns more with her personal values. Becoming an activist and organizer out of “sheer necessity,” she is co-founder of the grassroots group They See Blue, Georgia.
Pointing out that December is an auspicious month, not only for western communities around the world, but also for Tamilians, she spoke about the auspicious month of margali, and going to the temple and singing songs in praise of God. With a touch of humor, Pulendran told the audience that she was more interested in eating the prasadam (offering) that comes at the end rather than praying. Speaking of her paternal grandfather that visited the temple three times a day, points out that her 93-year-old father who lives in Michigan, mentally visits half a dozen temples daily, illuminating her upbringing in a strict Hindu household.
Pulendran also spoke of Bharatanatyam being steeped in Hindu religion as it originated from the temples of South India, and learning Hindu mythology as part of her upbringing. She pointed out that as an adult she became more spiritual than religious and labels herself “a global citizen” – based on the Hindu philosophy of ‘the world is our family’. Seeing Hinduism as a global inclusive religion, with a timelessness that transcends everything, Pulendran believes that Warnock embodies this. Giving as example of this, Pulendran points out that Hindu philosophy talks of taking care of Mother Earth and the sick, poor and ailing – these personal values transcend into political policies – like expansion of Medicare, healthcare for all and preservation of the planet etc. – values that Warnock espouses.
The evening also saw Daniel Blackman, who is running for Georgia Public Service Commission District 4, because he wants to be a voice for families, people on a fixed income, business owners, and all ratepayers throughout the state, encourage Hindu Americans specifically to come out and vote not only for Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff, but for him as well.
The hour-long dialogue ended with a Q&A session between the panelists and the audience.