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Indo American Presence Grows in Politics, Congress

Ami Berra

Ami Berra

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: Across the nation, inspite of the inflammatory rhetoric of the Presidential election that has roused concerns of a resurgence of racism and a polarized society, there has been a bright ray of hope in the election of five new Indo Americans to Congress from Illinois and California. It is a long road from the first Indo-American Dalip Singh Saund who was elected to Congress from the 29th Congressional District in California in 1956 and served till 1963 when he was unable to run for re-election due to a severe stroke that left him unable to walk or talk without assistance.

 

Pramila Jayapal

Pramila Jayapal

The four Indo-Americans, who are all Democrats, won in the national elections on November 8 are: Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Rohit “Ro” Khanna from California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington in the US House of Representatives and Kamala Harris of California in the US Senate. They will join fellow Democrat Ami Bera of California who won re-election and Hindu-American Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, though not of Indian descent, who also won re-election.

Ro Khanna

Ro Khanna

Raja Krishnamoorthi, 43, won the 8th Congressional District in the Chicago-area race by defeating Republican Pete DiCianni, a former Mayor of Elemhurst. The seat had been vacated by Tammy Duckworth who won the Senate race. It was Krishnamoorthi’s second attempt for the seat. He was born in New Delhi and is the President of Sivananthan Laboratories, a high-tech business incubator of cutting-edge, fundamental research and development. He ran on a platform of help working families, equal pay for equal work, paid sick and maternity leave, raising the federal minimum wage and making college more affordable. He also served as Illinois state Deputy Treasurer and an Assistant Attorney General on special assignment to fight corruption.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris

Also born in India, Pramila Jayapal, 51, is a financial analyst who defeated fellow Democrat, Brady Wilkinshaw with an endorsement from Presidential primary contender Bernie Sanders and won the Washington State 7th Congressional District from  Seattle. She has been a civil rights activist involved in immigrant and women’s rights causes. She will be the first Indo-American woman to serve in the US House of Represenatives. Jayapal was born in Chennai to a Tamil family and raised in Indonesia and Singapore. She came to the US in 1982 to attend Georgetown University and later received an MBA from Northwestern University.

Raja Krishnamoorthi

Raja Krishnamoorthi

Rohit “Ro” Khanna, 40, is a former federal Deputy Assistant Commerce Secretary, who won from the heart of Silicon Valley on his second try by defeating incumbent Congressman Mike Honda in a bitterly contested rematch for California’s and having received the endorsement of former President Jimmy Carter. Khanna was born in Philadelphia after his parents immigrated to the US. His father is a graduate of IIT and the University of Michigan and mother was a substitute teacher. Khanna went to the University of Chicago and Yale Law School and was appointed by President Barack Obama as to the United States Department of Commerce Tulsi Gabbard, 35, vaulted into national prominence in 2012 with her election to Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District and was much heralded for being the first and only Hindu in Congress. She took her oath of office by placing her hand on the Bhagavad Gita and has openly spoken about it as her source of resilience.  In this year’s race, Gabbard’s Republican rival Angela Kaaihue launched a tirade of anti-Hindu statements and called her a “pathetic Hindu 1,000 gods leader”, prompting Republican Party leaders to condemn her and withdrew their support.

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard

Kamala Harris, 52, is the first Indo-American to become a US Senator from California, winning the open seat after Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement and defeating her fellow Democrat opponent Loretta Sanchez. Harris is a lawyer by profession and was elected to two-terms as Attorney General in 2010 and 2014. She born in Oakland, California to a South Indian mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris who emigrated from Chennai in 1960 and a Jamaican-American father, Donald Harris, a Stanford University economics professor. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she and her younger sister Maya were raised by her mother (who died in 2009) in Berkley. The family lived in a black neighborhood and the girls sang in a Baptist choir and Harris follows the Baptist faith.

Also in a tightly contested race, incumbent Democrat Rep. Ami Bera, 51, won re-election to his third-term for the 7th Congressional District against Sacramento County Sheriff Republican Scott Jones, winning by a slim margin of 6,000 votes. He won 51.2 % of the vote against 48.8% for Jones. The election was marred by a scandal involving Bera’s 83-year-old father Babulal who was sentenced to a year in prison for illegally funneling nearly $270,000 to his son’s campaign. Ami Bera wasn’t charged and denied any knowledge. Ami was born in Los Angeles and raised in Orange County and his parents Babulal and Kanta are from Rajkot, Gujarat and migrated to the US in 1956. Berra is a Unitarian Universalist and will now become the longest Indo-American congressman.

These national races only underscore the other political positions that Indo-Americans have won over the past decade. Harvinder “Harry” Anand, became Mayor of Laurel Hollow, New York in 2007, the first Indian-American mayor in New York; Satish Hiremath, Mayor of Oro Valley, Arizona, the second Indian-American mayor in the United States in 2010; Satyendra Singh Huja, a former adjunct Professor with the University of Virginia School of Architecture became the Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, a city of 44,349 people in January 2012; Nikki Haley, became Governor of South Carolina in 2011 and Bobby Jindal, a former U.S. Congressman became the Governor of Louisiana in 2008. To that list add Pradeep Gupta, who will be sworn in as the Mayor of South San Francisco on December 6, 2016.

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