- While Democrats hailed the California Senator’s choice as the Vice Presidential nominee, Hindu American supporters of Trump feel Harris’ appointment solidifies the anti-Hindu, anti-Indian American stand of Democrats.
A majority of Indian Americans appear to be excited, energized and encouraged by the historic selection of California Senator Kamala Devi Harris as the vice presidential candidate by presumptive Democratic party presidential nominee Joe Biden. Harris becomes the first African American and first Indian American woman to be chosen as a presidential running mate. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris was a Tamilian from India, while her father, Donald Harris is a Black man from Jamaica.
Harris’s sister Maya Harris tweeted: “You can’t know who @KamalaHarris is without knowing who our mother was. Missing her terribly, but know she and the ancestors are smiling today.”
Harris, 55, was herself a presidential aspirant until last year before she dropped out of the race.
Indian American political, advocacy and social groups, elected officials, as well as members of the community issued statements and took to social media to express their enthusiasm and optimism for a Biden-Harris ticket.
Historic and Inspiring Candidacy
Neil Makhija, the executive director of IMPACT, an Indian American advocacy group and PAC, in a statement, said “Kamala Harris’s story is the story of a changing, inclusive America. At a time of rapid change, she ties all our national threads together.” As the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, Makhija said, “Harris represents the future and promise of this country.” He said her “candidacy is historic and inspiring, not only for Black Americans, but for millions of Asian American voters, the fastest growing voting bloc in the country.”
Adding that IMPACT “is gearing up to raise $10 million to fight for inclusive democracy and candidates who share our values like Senator Harris,” Makhija noted that “an estimated 1.3 million Indian Americans are expected to vote in this year’s election, including nearly 200,000 in Pennsylvania and 125,000 in Michigan, both must-win battleground states.
Shekar Narasimhan, chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund said Harris’s candidacy would be “seismic” for the Indian American community. “She’s a woman, she’s biracial, she will help win the election for Biden, she appeals to various communities and she’s really smart,” he said in a Facebook post.
Ravi Chaudhary, a retired Air Force Lt. Col., senior Strategic Advisor for South Asians for Biden, and DNC National Delegate believes that “Sen. Harris is the right leader for our time, and will advance the principles of fairness and equality in our nation for all.” He said, “as the daughter of immigrants, Sen. Harris has spent her entire career fighting for those less fortunate and will make an outstanding vice president at a time when our nation has been in turmoil due to the painful reality of systemic racial injustice.”
Gaurang Vaishnav of Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV) believes that Biden made a good choice for his running mate. “Sen. Kamala Harris is eminently qualified and is a moderate and pragmatic person which will help Mr. Biden in pursuing policies that will restore the confidence of the citizens in our government that has been badly shattered by the current president.” Vaishnav is hopeful that Harris’ selection would enthuse many Indian American voters sitting on the fence. These are the voters who are “surely opposed to Mr. Trump, but were not very enthused for Joe Biden,” he said. “This balanced ticket will give them a reason to be actively engaged in the election process.”
Sangeeta Ramakrishnan of They See Blue hopes that “Indian Americans show their support for this ticket by coming out to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket in droves.” Adding that “turnout in our community has not been as high in the past,” she wished “this election changes that.” They See Blue aims to mobilize and engage Americans of South Asian origin in the democratic process to help Democrats win federal, state, and local races.
Indra Nooyi, former chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, tweeted that she is “truly excited and encouraged by @JoeBiden’s selection of @KamalaHarris to be his vice president. I’ve had the privilege to get to know Kamala personally and find her to be brilliant, loving and committed to building America’s future. This is a great choice for our country.”
A tweet by Preet Bharara, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, summed up the feeling of a large section of the Indian American community. “The most excited person I talked to today was my Indian mom,” he wrote. “Because she cannot wait to vote for Vice President Kamala Devi Harris.”
Shattering Many Glass Ceilings
Experts and those mobilizing for a Biden win believe that Harris’s selection is a huge win for the South Asian communities as well as the minorities. “This day means everything to the Indian American community and minorities as a whole,” said Chaudhary. “Alongside Joe, we have someone who has lived our struggles and challenges, understands us, and is willing to fight for the equality of all Americans,” he said. “This is the best part — for young South Asian American girls dreaming of the stars, especially my daughter, their day has finally arrived. Today, a million more Kamala’s were made.”
North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri, in a Facebook post said Harris’ selection shatters many glass ceilings. “For me, it’s about the next generation, and it’s about recapturing, restoring, and reviving the hope of this beautiful country we call the UNITED States of America,” he wrote. “For me, it’s witnessing a woman of color telling and showing my daughter that she, too, can run for president one day.”
“As an Indian American woman, I am ecstatic to see Kamala selected,” Ramakrishnan said. “It is very inspiring to see a woman of color and of Indian heritage step up to the national stage in a leadership role.” she said. “I sure hope it inspires other women and girls like my daughter to dream big, take chances and step up.”
Civil rights attorney, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a tweet, lauded Harris’ selection. Sharing a photo of the two, Gupta wrote: “It’s a historic day for Black women, South Asian women, women of color, women everywhere, for America.”
Ishani Peddi, a rising senior at Starr’s Mill High School in Peachtree City, Georgia, said Harris’ selection is monumental and inspiring. “As a young female Asian American that is heavily involved in politics and has aspirations to run for president in the future, this announcement was monumental for me,” she said. “Not only is it historic, with Harris being the first black woman and AAPI to be on a presidential ticket, but it personally illustrates to me that my goals are not out of reach and can be attained,” she said.
“Kamala Harris is blazing a new path for young AAPI females who hope to run for office and her strong performance during Senate confirmation hearings set an example for young girls to be outspoken and ask the hard questions, despite any backlash from colleagues or peers,” she said. Growing up in Southern California, Peddi remembers when Kamala Harris was running for Senate. “I was extremely excited, even then, as a middle schooler, to see an Indian American woman succeeding as a government leader and introducing many progressive pieces of legislation. She inspired me then and continues to inspire me now,” she said. “For me, the announcement is a ray of hope for the future of this country, American politics, and for my future endeavors.”
Several young Indian American elected officials and Indian American celebrities expressed their excitement with the announcement.
Candidate for New York Assembly, Jenifer Rajkumar said she is “incredibly proud of my party for making history today by nominating a South Asian woman for Vice President of the United States.” She said Harris “is a self-starter who has fought fearlessly for the people her entire distinguished career as a lawyer, attorney general and U.S. Senator.”
Charlotte, North Carolina Congresswoman Dimple Ajmera said Harris is paving the way for women of color. “By choosing Harris, who is Black and Indian American, Democrats are sending a powerful and historic statement ahead of the November election as the nation continues to grapple with social change.”
Middlesex County Freeholder Shanti Narra, in a Facebook post,wrote: “Joe Biden chose a powerful and smart woman of color as his running mate and for me 2020 has started down a path of redemption.”
Kentucky State Representative Nima Kulkarni, in a Facebook post reiterated how Harris’s selection was a historic moment for our country. “As the first Indian immigrant elected to the Kentucky Legislature, I am especially proud to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, because they truly represent America,” she wrote. This November, let’s all remember who we are and what we are fighting for. Let’s make sure we vote on the right side of history.”
Mindy Kaling also took to Twitter to express her happiness on seeing representation in the presidential race. “Was there ever more of an exciting day? For our entire country of course, but especially for my Black and Indian sisters, many of us who have gone our entire lives thinking that someone who looks like us may never hold high office?” Kaling wrote. “We work so hard and contribute to the fabric of our lives in America, and now to see @SenKamalaHarris rise to the top like this? It’s thrilling!”
Acknowledging how far Indian Americans have come, actress Priyanka Chopra wrote: “This is a historical, transformational, and proud moment for all women.”
Chef Vikas Khanna, who has called New York his home for over two decades, hailed Harris’s selection as the “rise of New America.” He tweeted: “Living in the U.S. for 20 years, I never thought that I would see an Indian American on a Presidential ticket.”
Model-turned-chef Padma Lakshmi, who was born in Chennai, shared a GIF of her cheering to Harris’s news.
Energizing the South Asian Community
Grassroots organizations like South Asians for Biden hope that Harris’ pick will energize South Asians to vote. “Picking Senator Harris as the vice presidential nominee, sends a powerful message to people of color and the South Asian community, in particular,” a statement from South Asians for Bide said. “Asian Americans are one the fastest growing voting blocks in the United States and we hope this will energize South Asians to vote.”
Dr. Tushar Patel, member of the N.J. chapter for South Asians for Biden believes that “Biden’s foreign policy and Senator Harris’s domestic policy knowledge will bring a balanced leadership in the White House which our country is in desperate need in recent times.”
For Karan Virmani, state director for the N.J. chapter for South Asians for Biden, Harris’ selection is “a wonderful and very well calculated pick.” Virmani said that “the fact that Harris is part South Asian is a huge boost for the community.”
Groups like the South Asian Bar Association (SABA) North America and the Washington Leadership Program also congratulated Harris on her historic nomination.
Ajay Jain Bhutoria, an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley said its a great moment of pride and celebration for the Indian American community to have Harris as the vice presidential candidate.
Similarly, progressive groups like Hindus for Human Rights, in a Facebook post, congratulating Biden for picking Harris, said: “We are excited that your running mate is a solid progressive, a woman of color, and someone with Indian and Hindu roots.”
However, there were some members of the community who aren’t happy with Biden’s choice.
Peddi noted that there has already been “a large amount of backlash” towards the announcement, “most of it coming from young Democrats.” She said many of her “peers and close friends have expressed that they are not pleased with Kamala being the vice president pick due to her spotty criminal justice record and have been posting about how they would rather vote third party as Harris only makes decisions that will not garner backlash from the party or other politicians, not thinking for herself.”
However, Peddi said it is “important to remember that Joe Biden’s platform is the most progressive of any candidate in history and recent events have led to a shift in mindset as many politicians and the Democratic party are attempting to cater to more progressive voters. Thus, despite mistakes she has made in the past, if elected, Kamala Harris will listen to the people and put forth extremely progressive legislation,” she said.
Gargi Asavari Bagchi, founder, director, and CEO at Asavari LLC, in a Facebook post, lamented that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wasn’t Biden’s choice for vice president. “Elizabeth Warren has been the most qualified, experienced and served candidate for the VP selection,” she wrote. “Warren is 72 years old and may not ever run for a Presidential race just like Hillary Clinton… Warren and Clinton’s political career is over.”
Anti-India, Anti-Hindu Stand
On the other end of the spectrum were Trump supporters like A.D. Amar, president of Indian Americans for Trump, and management professor at Seton Hall University, who feels that Harris’ lack of association with her Indian heritage will have some negative effect on the Indian American voters. “Until she was contesting for president, during the Democratic primary season, she had not associated herself with the Indian-American population,” he said. “That is why, at a debate podium, questions were raised to her about being Indian and hiding it,” he said. “Several reporters, since, asked her openly about her not espousing her Indian heritage. It was only then, that she accepted her Indian blood.” Amar says he is sure this question will come to haunt her during the vice presidential campaign. “Both Indian-Americans and the Trump-supporting reporters will not let it die.”
Similarly, Americans4Hindus, a non-partisan Independent political committee, in a Facebook post, said that Biden’s selection of Harris “just solidifies the anti-Hindu, anti-Indian American stand” of Democrats. It makes it more terrifying for us, if this duo wins.” The post added that it doesn’t matter that Harris has Indian ancestry, because “she has steered clear of her Indian connection, and only remembers it when she need money,” the post said, and added” “Harris’ stand on India and Hindus mirrors those of other Hinduphobic Indian American politicians like [Pramila] Jaypal (D-Wash.) and [Ro] Khanna (D-Calif.) Most of the Indian American community will shun her.”
Amar said that although they have been expecting a big turnout of the Indian-Americans for Trump, the Harris announcement will dampen some of it. “Nevertheless, Harris’ selection by Biden will send negative vibes among the Black voters,” he said. “While many of them may not vote for Trump, the lack of enthusiasm for the Biden-Harris ticket will keep them home. Trump will still win hands down.”
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Française de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.