January 2024 \ Diaspora News \ Diaspora News

By Meenakshi Iyer

New Delhi: Forming roughly 2 percent of the American population, five of them in the House of Representatives, nearly 50 in state legislatures, two in the presidential race and one occupying the Vice President’s office (and therefore the Senate presidency) -- Indian-Americans and their vote have assumed an unprecedented significance in the US political spectrum.

For the first time in the country’s history, two Indian-Americans -- Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy -- are in the race for the presidency from the Republican side and Vice President Kamala Harris may just become the first female president of colour if President Joe Biden, whose advanced age has become a matter of concern, fails to complete an elected term.

Giving a few reasons for the upswing in Indian-American political participation, Congressman Ro Khanna said: “It could be a new generation of South Asians coming of age. It could be a reaction to Trump’s 2016 election. It could be Barak Obama’s presidency that showed people of colour could ascend to leadership positions’’.

Harris’s run as Biden’s running mate in 2020 galvanised the Indian-Americans to turn out to vote, with about 49 per cent of respondents in opinion polls indicating that her nomination made them more enthusiastic about Biden’s candidacy.

For nearly six times, Biden has referred to his 2024 running mate and second-in-command as “President”, accidentally though, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Harris is set to play a more prominent role in case the Democrats retain control of the White House.

Having visited 19 countries and met with some 100 world leaders, Harris -- born to an immigrant mother from India and father from Jamaica -- has lately been the Biden administration’s point person on domestic priorities.

The Democrat is already leading from the front on potent issues such as abortion, voting rights, gun control -- signalling that the 58 year-old is positioning herself as the potential heir apparent to the octogenarian President.

However, the Vice President is not faring well in the polls. Just 41 per cent of adults told CBS News they approve of the job she’s doing -- about the same as Biden’s approval rating. Further, the Samosa Caucus -- representing five Indian-American Democrats serving in Congress -- includes Pramila Jayapal, Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Khanna and Shri Thanedar.

Jayapal, who represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District in the House, recently expressed fears that the 2024 election is in “great trouble” for Biden with new polls showing him trailing in multiple battleground states.

Khanna recently squared off with fellow Indian-American and Republican presidential aspirant Vivek Ramaswamy on ideological and political divides between the conservatives and liberals in America.

At the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, four-term California congressman Khanna pitched his populist economic vision for the US, while Ramaswamy presented his blueprint for the country, drawing from populist ideas and rhetoric from the GOP side.

Registering recent victories in the November 7 poll, Indian-Americans, mostly Democrats, are going strength to strength ahead of the key 2024 elections. Notable among them was Democrat Neil Makhija, who became the first Asian-American to win the election to fill one of two majority party seats on the governing body of Pennsylvania’s third-largest county -- Montgomery.

Democrat Kannan Srinivasan was elected to the legislature of Virginia state as delegate for District 26 and Vin Gopal was re-elected as Democratic state senator for New Jersey. Democrats Suhas Subramanyam won the Virginia state senate election for District 32 and Balvir Singh retained the seat of county commissioner in Burlington, New Jersey.

In general, Indian-Americans have largely sided with the Democrats and stayed away from the Republican Party due to a perception that the party is intolerant of minorities. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 68 per cent of Indian-American registered voters identified as Democrats and 29 per cent as Republicans.

According to the Carnegie Endowment, the Indian-Americans who “identify as Republicans are primarily moved to do so because of economic policy differences with the Democrats -- with particularly marked differences regarding healthcare”.

The entry of former South Carolina Governor Haley, a Sikh, and biotech entrepreneur Ramaswamy, a Hindu, in the presidential bid from the Republican side was supposed to have changed that perception. But their hard-line positions on issues like race, identity and immigration left many Indian-Americans ‘disconcerted’, according to The New York Times.

The report stated that Ramaswamy’s promise to dismantle the Education Department was viewed negatively by many Indian Americans. Suresh Reddy, a city councilman from Iowa who identified himself as a centrist Democrat, told The Times: “I’m really proud. just wish they had a better message.” An AAPI Data and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows that only 18 per cent and 23 per cent of Asian-American and Pacific Islander adults view Ramaswamy and Haley favourably.

Tags: USA