Even as Indian-Americans, depending on whether they support Democrats or Republicans, soak in the US presidential election outcome, there are enough reasons for them to feel upbeat. Bobby Jindal (Republican), former Louisiana governor, and Nikki Haley (R), governor of South Carolina, are both reportedly in the race for plum posts in president-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet. While that, if it happens, would be the first time ever that a person of Indian origin finds a place in the top US administration, more Indian Americans than ever before have won the elections in various posts on November 8.
While Kamala Harris (Democrat) from California is senator-elect, Ro Khanna (D), Ami Bera (D), Pramila Jayapal (D) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) have all won seats in the US Congress. In different state elections, Jay Chaudhuri (D) won his seat in the North Carolina Senate, Niraj Antani (R) was re-elected to the Ohio assembly and Ash Kalra (D) was victorious in the California assembly. In local council polls in California, Raj Salwan (Fremont), Arun Goel (Dublin) and Gary Singh (Manteca) were elected.
For the Long Haul
Niraj Antani, 25, is the youngest Indian-American elected official in the US to be re-elected for a second term to the Ohio assembly. “I am proud to be one of the few Indian-American elected officials in the country. Politics can be challenging and making a change to benefit our communities is often difficult,” Antani told ET Magazine immediately after the poll results were known. It was hard work and perseverance, qualities that he has imbibed from his Indian and Gujarati roots, that helped him through his campaign.
Antani is all set for a long haul in politics and sees himself carrying the torch for the entire Indian-American community. “The pioneers of the community have done so much to lay the groundwork for my generation, it is time now for me to build on their successes.” For the state of Ohio, he sees a lot of opportunities and challenges, including getting the cost of higher education under control, an issue that is paramount to the state’s future success.
Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, Indian Americans are celebrating the election of Ro Khanna, who defeated eight-term incumbent Mike Honda after a tough campaign to win the Congress seat.
“We are about 1% of the US population and now 1% of the US Congress are Indian Americans. Our community realises how important it is to have a seat at the table and elected leaders who will pay heed to our concerns and aspirations. Khanna’s winning will encourage Indian Americans to run for political office all over the country with the mindset to win,” says Rishi Kumar, council member of Saratoga (Silicon Valley).
Having three Indian Americans in the Congress and the high-profile and charismatic Harris (also from California) as the first senator of Indian origin is obviously the icing on the cake.
Entrepreneur and investor Kanwal Rekhi too is upbeat about the bigger number of elected Indian Americans. “Indian Americans have tripled their presence in the Congress and made an entry into the Senate with Harris. I worked hard for the campaigns of Khanna (in California) and Krishnamoorthi (in Illinois) and their wins are personally gratifying,” he told ET Magazine.
While the Indian-American Congress members are spread across the states in California, Washington and Illinois, they have also notched victories in state houses. They are seen as district attorneys, staffers on Capitol Hill and on local school boards. “The community is coming of age and these are going to be role models for young Indian Americans looking for career choices in future,” says Sanjay Puri, chairman of the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).
Exciting Times Ahead?
Former Washington state senator Pramila Jayapal, who won the seat from Washington state’s seventh district, is a first-generation Indian American and is the first woman from the community to serve in the US Congress. “The community is looking for role models and people who can help extend the leadership ladder and training to our young people, something that I have made a priority in all of my political work,” Jayapal told ET Magazine.
Born in Chennai, she moved to the US as a teenager and has led movements for immigrants and is the founder of One America, Washington state’s largest immigrant rights organisation. Jayapal has also been recognised as a White House Champion for Change. An active state senator, she now feels that the Congress will provide a much bigger platform in organising community as well as constituent services.
“I will always be attentive to the voices in the district and moving forward legislation to help regular people get opportunities and to fight against an economy that too often seems rigged against our middle class and the most vulnerable,” she said. Top issues for her include addressing income inequality, through raising the minimum wage across the country, providing affordable childcare and paid safe and sick days and gender pay equity.
She is also focused on making college affordable for young people, addressing climate change and continuing her work as a champion for federal immigration reform — all issues that impact the lives of Indian Americans in a big way.
For many Indian Americans who actively worked on the presidential and other campaigns, there are exciting times ahead for the community. “With these recent wins, the South Asian community has many real-life mentors. We are at the cusp of a new beginning of our cultural representation in the US,” says Shefali Razdan Duggal, a Democrat who was involved with Hillary Clinton’s campaign and those of Indian-American Democratic candidates over the past several months.