INTERNATIONAL

A supporter of criminal justice reform

Presumptive Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s connect with the African-American and Indian-American communities will be scrutinised as her campaign advances. In a country that is in the throes of a debate on race and policing, Ms. Harris’s African-American heritage but also her former role as a prosecutor is expected to come to the fore.

During the Democratic primaries, Ms. Harris had outlined her plans for criminal justice reform that included legalising marijuana, abolishing the death penalty and banning private prisons. However, her record as California Attorney General had been criticised, especially by the progressive wing of the Democratic party, for continuing with establishment policies which, for instance, disproportionately incarcerated African Americans.

Sanders welcomes move

On Tuesday, however, other former presidential candidates, progressive Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, welcomed the announcement that Ms. Harris would be on the ticket. “She understands what it takes to stand up for working people, fight for health care for all, and take down the most corrupt administration in history. Let’s get to work and win,” Mr. Sanders tweeted.

More recently, following the death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis by police, Ms. Harris co-sponsored legislation in the Senate for justice reform. In April, she introduced legislation to address the impact of COVID-19 on minority communities, whom the disease affects disproportionately. Last year, Ms. Harris was a lead co-sponsor for legislation (which ultimately did not pass) whose impact would be to increase the number of green cards that could go to countries like India and China, which normally max out their annual resident visa quotas.

Indian culture

On the topic of her ethnicity, Ms. Harris has said she has not spent a lot of time trying to categorise herself. “You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it,” she had said in an interview to the Washington Post .

In her book The Truths We Hold , she talks about being raised with a “strong awareness and appreciation” for Indian culture. Her Indian mother, who was also a civil rights activist, knew that American society would view Kamala and her sister Maya Harris as black, so raised them to be “confident, proud black women”.

Around 1.3 million Indian Americans are likely to vote in November — a small but rich and increasingly politically active demographic. The Biden-Harris ticket is likely to mobilise funds from Indian Americans.

“Indian Americans have already become a source of support and funding as evidenced by the 2020 primaries where several million dollars were raised by all the presidential candidates,” said M.R. Rangaswami, founder of diaspora organisation Indiaspora. “Kamala Harris is an incredibly charismatic person who will resonate with our community,” Mr. Rangaswami told The Hindu . Fundraisers are already being organised for her to raise “several millions [ of dollars] more”, he said.

Impact, an advocacy group and Political Action Committee (PAC) that describes itself as helping Indian Americans run and win political office, announced that it plans to raise $10 million for “candidates who share our values like Senator Harris”.

Mr. Biden’s choice of Ms. Harris as running mate is likely to impact funding more than voting choice, according to Devesh Kapur, a professor of South Asia at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Given how polarised the country is, most voters have already made up their minds. They will not change their vote. Her nomination will make a difference only to the relatively small number of undecided (Indian-American) voters,” Mr. Kapur told The Hindu .

With many Indian-American voters are in deep-blue (highly Democrat) States and the Northeast, shifts in their votes will not have a major impact, as per Mr. Kapur. While the number of Indian Americans has been growing in Florida, Georgia, Texas, their relatively small numbers (many are non-citizens) will not have an impact unless the elections are close in those States.

Responding to the announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was “a little surprised” that Mr. Biden picked Ms. Harris and characterised as “extraordinarily nasty” Ms. Harris’s questioning of the then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation. Ms. Harris had questioned the candidate Justice on multiple sexual assault accusations and any links he might have had with the Mueller probe into Russian meddling into the 2016 U.S. elections.

‘Very happy’

Ms. Harris’s maternal uncle G. Balanchandran, speaking to The Hindu from New Delhi, said he was not surprised by the news but was “very happy” to hear it. As a follower of U.S. politics, Mr Balachandran said he thought his niece “was one of the best” of all the VP candidates being considered.

“Anybody who has listened to a Senate hearing would know, she can grill them like nobody’s business.” Mr. Balachandran, an academic and one time journalist with The Hindu , said. A second reason for his not being surprised was Ms. Harris’s middle-of-the-road approach to issues. “She’s not very dogmatic,” Mr. Balachandran said .

“My sister Shyamala would have been extremely happy… and my parents [Ms. Harris’s grandparents] would have been very happy,” Mr. Balachandran said. Ms. Harris is married to Douglas Emhoff, an attorney, and has two step-children through him.

Recommended for you