Indian Political Clout in the USA

By |2019-10-16T16:12:58+01:0016th October, 2019|

Last few years Indian and Hindu Americans have seen a mercurial rise in their clout in US politics. However, as it stands now, it is nowhere compared to the clout the other minority groups enjoy.

Congresswoman Gabbard’s connection to India is her faith. Gabbard is an unabashed practicing Hindu. She is the first Hindu to run for the US top job. She was the first Hindu ever elected to the US Congress.

In the US, the Indian diaspora is quite insignificant in terms of its numbers. At 1% of the US population, Indians are one of the tiniest minorities in America.  Hindus comprise about 0.7% of the US population. Notwithstanding their number, Indian Americans in general have the highest per capita household income of any ethnic/national groups. Additionally, Indian (and Hindu) Americans, according the Pew Research, are one of the most educated groups based on 4-year college degrees. About 30% Indian Americans hold a post-graduate degree, 90% of it in a technical discipline.

All this growing clout and prosperity of the Indian diaspora in the US has meant that Indian Americans are now speaking more and more with their wallets. When it comes to political contributions, according to a report published in The LA Times, Indian Americans contributed more than $3 million to 2020 presidential campaigns. That amount already accounts for more than that of “the coveted donors of the Hollywood”.

It is no secret that most Indian Americans have been a votary of the Democratic Party and political contributions confirm that trend. About two third of the $3 million political contributions of the campaign 2020 have so far (reported on July 15) gone to Democratic presidential candidates. Top two netters among Democrats were Kamala Harris, the Senator from California and Tulsi Gabbard, the Congresswoman from Hawaii. They received $387,800 and $374,700 respectively, the report claims. The campaign of President Donald Trump, the incumbent, received more than $1 million, which is the highest contribution so far by Indian Americans to a single candidate running for the top post.

Before 2020, it was Piyush “Bobby” Jindal who announced his candidacy for the 2012 presidential election.  Jindal, a son of Punjabi Indian immigrant parents and a convert to Christianity during his high school years, was a rising start of the Republican Party. After serving in the Louisiana state legislature and President George W Bush’s administration, Jindal was serving his second term as the Governor of Louisiana when he announced his candidacy.

However, his campaign lost steam midstream. Jindal had famously said that he was tired of “all this talk about hyphenated Americans.” He campaign slogan ‘Tanned. Rested. Ready’ was ridiculed all around and he was taken to task in both mainstream as well as social media. Jindal’s campaign never got any traction among the Indian American diaspora as he never publicly claimed his Indian ancestry.

The 2020 presidential election is interesting in a sense that there are two candidates among the Democrats vying for a chance to challenge President Trump who can claim some connection to India.

Senator Harris’ connection to India is her mother Shyamala who was born in India. However, Harris has rarely claimed her Indian ancestry overtly. Her Senate website bio mentions her as an African American (from her father’s side) and a South Asian.

“In 2017, Kamala D. Harris was sworn in as a United State Senator for California, the second African-American woman, and first South Asian-American senator in history.”

Many within the diaspora consider ‘South Asian’ as an extension of colonialism and resist such classification. They object to this nationality-neutral identity maker given the struggles of the Indian Americans in fighting the inaccuracies and biases in the California history textbooks. The notion of belonging to a borderless larger geographical entity was promoted primarily by the intellectuals, leftists, social workers, writers and artists to advance the concept of secularism and progressive politics.

Congresswoman Gabbard’s connection to India is her faith. Gabbard is an unabashed practicing Hindu. She is the first Hindu to run for the US top job. She was the first Hindu ever elected to the US Congress. Gabbard is a vegetarian in her dietary preference. She took her oath of office on the Bhagwad Gita, a revered Hindu text. She has released year after year her now famous Diwali greeting video, and she was instrumental in getting stamps released by the United States Postal Service in recognition of Diwali, the festival of lights.

While Harris has faced flack for not openly embracing her Indian identity, Gabbard’s open and public embrace of Hinduism too has proven to be a hindrance for her. Many radical left groups have relentlessly targeted her and her campaign.

Despite all achievements, from winning the ‘Spelling Bee’ to occupying top positions in corporate and academic circles and making loads of political contributions, Indians have so far failed to translate their successes into a political force. Nor have they organized as a political pressure group to advance the ethnic, cultural and political agenda of the diaspora.

Indian Americans still seem to be guided by politics back home. They have yet to recognize the fact that they are a minority, with the potential to harbour a larger voice. As a minority, they are exposed to many biases and discrimination. The recent US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on yearly (2017) hate crimes statistics showed that there was a three –fold increase in Hindu victims of hate crimes in two years.

Though the number of politicians running for political office and getting elected for the same has seen a steady increase over the last few years, it can still be more significant.

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