Politically, 2016 is a ‘Miracle Year’ for Indian Americans

The size of their congressional delegation may have quintupled overnight, but Indian Americans’ success is the culmination of years of hard work.

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As the curtain falls on 2016 and we welcome 2017, there is a lot to celebrate for the Indian American community, which has made numerous strides in American politics in the past year.

Politically speaking, 2016 was the best year for the community in terms of electoral accomplishments. In fact, it’s truly the Miracle Year for Indian Americans.

Personally, the November election was bitter sweet for me. I am a big supporter of Secretary Clinton and I was on her campaign’s national finance committee — a job that gave me an opportunity to traverse the lengths and breadth of the country to meet people and raise money. Sen. Clinton’s loss in November was a devastating blow for me. But, the American people have spoken through our electoral process, and we will accept the result.

Despite the outcome of Presidential election, however, November 2016 also brought great joy for me because of the substantial gains made by Indian American candidates in the congressional elections. In the course of one election cycle, we saw our community’s representation increase by 500 percent. 500 percent!

For the first time, we have an Indian American senator in Sen. Kamala Harris from California. Sen. Harris, a real talent, is a rising star in American politics and one hopes that she will scale many more heights now that she is on the national stage.

We also saw Dr.  Ami Bera from California returning to Washington for his third term, along with four new members: Ro Khanna from California, Washington State’s Pramila Jaypal and Illinois’ Raja Krishnamoorthi.

What it means is that the community, finally, has several seats at the table! The 3.3 million Indian Americans, who consist of 1 percent of the US populations, have, at long last, representation that is proportionate to our population. The community is also one of the very few minority ethnic groups in the United States that have representation commensurate with their numbers.

Indian Americans are also going to have a significant representation in the next administration. President-elect Trump has already picked two Indian Americans for key administration positions. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another real talent, is going to be our next UN Ambassador. Another high profile pick Trump made was Seema Verma, who will run the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. We can expect Trump to pick more Indian Americans for important posts in the coming weeks.

While we celebrate the political success of the community, here are a few things we should ponder.

Left: Dalip Singh Saund and Bhagat Singh Thind. Images via Saund.org and the South Asian American Digital Archive
Left: Dalip Singh Saund and Bhagat Singh Thind. Images via Saund.org and the South Asian American Digital Archive

The size of our congressional delegation may have quintupled overnight—but our success didn’t come overnight. It’s the culmination of years of hard work by tens of thousands of activists who realized the importance of political participation beginning at the grassroots level.

While celebrating success, we must not forget the work carried by the great men and women who paved the way for this generation to succeed.

I would single out two such figures: Bhagat Singh Thind and Dalip Singh Saund.

Bhagat Singh Thind came to this country more than a hundred years ago as a student. He served in the US Army. He fought to become a US citizen, which was granted to him twice before it was rescinded.

Thind’s legal battle for US citizenship lasted 18 years.

Similarly, Congressman Saund was a true trailblazer. He became a member of Congress in 1957, when the size of the community was a few thousands nationwide. Saund was also the first Asian American member of Congress.

We owe our success to the efforts of pioneers and courageous leaders like Thind and Saund.

The community also must thank all great Americans who fought for the political rights of minorities in this country. America would not have been as diverse as is today without the efforts of leaders such Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., President Johnson and President Obama.

Having gained electoral success, Indian Americans must not rest on laurels. We must redouble our efforts to maintain and increase our participation in the political process, starting with local politics.

I would like to highlight the success the community had in Maryland. Indian Americans have been doing consistently well in Maryland, with the likes of Delegates Kumar Barve and Aruna Miller being in the statehouse for a number of years. In fact, Delegate Barve has been serving in the statehouse for a quarter century. His name should also be right up there along with pioneering political leaders such as Congressman Saund.

It is important for us to be politically engaged not only as Indian Americans but also as responsible citizens of this country. I firmly believe engaging in political activities create a common cause and a unified people. All of us should be involved in political activities in order to ensure that we continue to build a more perfect union and develop a country in a way that benefits the many as opposed to the fewer.

Political engagement is just one form of civic engagement that we should invest ourselves in to make our society and this nation a better place. The others are:  individual engagement, organizational engagement, community engagement, and social engagement.

Political engagement is especially important because it can provide the lever for progress in other forms of engagement.  President John F. Kennedy stated, “In a democracy, every citizen regardless of his interest in politics, holds office; every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends on how we fulfill those responsibilities.”

President Dwight Eisenhower put it this way, “Politics out to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and preserve what is good and  fruitful in our national heritage.”

Happy new year!

(Frank Islam is an entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the Washington, DC, area. His website is www.frankislam.com)

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