Indian Americans have the largest ever presence in the U.S Congress now and the community has got its first Senator in Kamala Harris, who won from California. While the Democratic Party has little to celebrate after the crushing defeat at the hands of Republican insurgent Donald Trump for presidency, Indian American leaders in the party have made a mark in Tuesday’s elections.
Besides Senator-elect Harris, Indian American community now has four members of the U.S House of Representatives. Ami Bera, the lone member of the outgoing House has won his California seat narrowly while Raja Krishnamurthi from Chicago, Pramila Jayapal from Washington and Ro Khanna from California will be fresh Indian Americans faces in the U.S legislature.
“This is a moment that challenges us and I know we will rise to the occasion. We must not despair. We must not be overwhelmed or throw up our hands. It is time to roll up our sleeves and fight for who we are!” Ms. Harris said after the results.
Peter Jacob in New Jersey and Anil Kumar in Michigan, two other Indian American candidates that showed promise during the campaign lost in the Trump wave that swept both these States. The five that won the elections had the advantage of contesting in States that traditionally favour the Democrats. In fact, some of these contests were between two Democrats.
As a child Ms. Harris used to visit Chennai, where her grandparents lived in the 1950s. Her mother Shyamala grew up in Chennai and came to the U.S for higher studies where she met Ms. Harris’s father. Ms. Harris has studied issues related to India during the campaign and more power to pro-India voices that in the U.S Congress. Ms. Harris is a confidant of President Barack Obama, and her election to the Senate is unlikely to be the final destination in her political journey. Mr. Krishnamurthi, who was born in Delhi to Tamilian parents, is also a protégé of Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama issued a powerful video, endorsing Mr. Krishnamurthi.
Ms. Jayapal was born in Chennai to Malayali parents who now live in Bangalore. She was endorsed by Bernie Sanders. Ms. Harris, Mr. Krishnamurthi and Ms. Jayapal represent the progressive wing in the Democratic Party. For them, pushing their welfare agenda in a Republican majority Congress and under ta Trump presidency will not be an easy task. Ms. Jayapal is also the first Indian American woman to enter the U.S House. She defeated a Democratic opponent and said after the victory, alluding to Mr. Trump winning the presidency: “If our worst fears are realized, we will be on the defense as of tomorrow. We will have to fight for social justice as never before,” adding that her differences with her Democratic opponent were insignificant considering the bigger national issues.
Ro Khanna’s victory from a Congressional District in Silicon Valley is appropriate given the large Indian American presence in the tech industry. Mr. Khanna has been an evangelist for digital economy but also argued in a book that reviving new age manufacturing in America would be crucial for its prosperity. Mr. Khanna’s district is where Apple, Tesla and eBay are headquartered. Mr. Bera, co-chair of the Congressional India Caucus, is a committed friend of India. With Tuesday’s victory, Mr. Bera will serve a third term in the House.