Jitendra Diganvker, the Republican who is challenging fellow Indian American Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois’ 8th district, speaks about his campaign.
By Zofeen Maqsood
Trust American politics to never disappoint you. So, even as the immigrant rhetoric may be at an all-time high in the country, in an interesting contradictory moment of sorts two Indian American immigrants are vying for an important congressional seat in Illinois. Republican Jitendra Diganvker is challenging the incumbent Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi in the state’s 8th congressional district. So, what would the upcoming mid-term elections entail for millions of immigrants in Illinois?
Diganvker, a first generation immigrant, spoke to the American Bazaar just days ahead of the elections on everything from merit-based migration to the president’s response to the recent killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We are absolutely going to win this election,” announces Republican candidate, Jitendra Diganvker at the start of this interview. “JD,” as he is popularly known in political circles, exudes a rare confidence.
RELATED: Jitendra Diganvker to run for Congress from 8th congressional district of Illinois (November 14, 2017)
After all, Krishnamoorthi has been popular amongst many Indian Americans as the face of what the American dream for an immigrant looks like. But Diganvker remains unfazed and insists that his party is all for hardworking Americans and informed immigrant rights unlike just the surface-talks. Even though he would hold a public office for the first time, if he were to win, Diganvker assures that he knows the pulse of an average American.
While it can be assumed that two immigrants, looking to represent the policies that would eventually affect the country, may come across both as assuring as well as confusing to many immigrants. It’s no secret that for decades, many Indian Americans have safely taken the route of supporting a fellow country man.
So, does Diganvker think that it may overwhelm some of the voters?
“I would like to see this more as a confidence-booster,” he says. However, he insists that the new Indian American voter is no longer uninformed and does not vote only based on few similarities that he may see with the contestants. Giving his own example, Diganvker says, “When I came to the US, I also began by supporting a fellow Indian.” Talking about the days when he supported his now opponent Krishnamoorthi by galvanizing resources for him, he says, “But I realized, the [Democratic party] policies may not necessarily align with the American dream we all come with and today many of us have realized it.”
RELATED: Two Indian Americans vying for Republican nomination to unseat Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (November 29, 2017)
While the immigrant debate would always remain in the foreground, Diganvker also insists that as responsible citizens we all must think equally about America and as Americans first. He says, “Yes, we respect our faith and our culture. We celebrate our festivals but we are also equally Americans as we are Indians and we are proud about this.”
But hasn’t the Republican party in the past received a bad rap for perhaps, promoting a singular identity? In fact, some Indian American candidates from the party have been discredited for not owning up to their identities.
How does he tackle this perception?
Diganvker says, “First of all, I must insist that Republican Party is not just for old, white folks as many may believe. It is a party that supports hard-working Americans. All our policies align with honoring hard work and that’s why we insist of merit-based migration.”
In the past Diganvker has said that he supports the building of a wall on southern border. What would he say about this to many who may see this as an extreme, almost anti-immigrant stance?
“As responsible Americans we must identify the difference between legal and illegal immigration,” he says. “There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. As a representative, I should be responsible for more than 43 million immigrants to the US and not just pamper those who came illegally and are now vying for equal rights. I understand the complexities of the DACA nominees and agree that it is not a child’s fault. But all we are saying is – we are offering a pathway if you want to immigrate, just follow the procedures.”
RELATED: List of Indian Americans running for Congress in 2018 (January 10, 2018)
On the immigration issue, Diganvker says that Congress has to come together and not just offer token promises something he thinks his opponent has been doing for a while.
How does he plan to restore the faith of an average American on the inclusivity of his party amidst growing rhetoric? Diganvker offers his own on-the-ground experiences. He says, “During the primaries, when I was collecting signatures, I met a white gentleman in his 70s. I asked him: As a white American, do you have a problem seeing a brown running for office? He shared: ‘Just the other day, I was walking with my son and we saw a Hispanic family. The guy was mowing grass and my son said, these people are taking up our jobs. I explained to my son, He’s just working hard to put food on the table for his family. And America will always welcome hard-working people.’ This is how the majority of America thinks.”
And what would he say about the presidents’ response on some very concerning issues, such as the recent killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Diganvker says, “It is a very sensitive issue. While Saudis are our strong trade partners but we also respect the first amendment and the freedom of press. I believe the President would have wanted to understand the dynamics of the issue first and then give a reaction. It is only fair to do so.” He adds, “The president is not the one to advocate war. Today N Korea and S Korea are talking. Today, economy is on the right path. We have to understand that the new trade policy with Canada and Mexico is a win-win for all.”
Talking about real solutions that concern the younger generation, he says, “We are working towards facilitating immigrants. I propose a three-year OPT (Optional Practical Training) for international students as opposed to the current one-year. They should be given a fair chance to look and work towards opportunities and a year is not enough.”
Similarly, on the H-1B issue, he says, “All H-1B holders should know that they are here for a reason and when they qualify for green card they should not have to wait for 5 to 7 years. In fact, I would want to address this issue before DACA. When they are paying so much tax why should they wait so long? Clearly, Democrats have no intent of resolving this. They just want to drum the DACA issue.”
Advocating merit based migration, Diganvker says, “It only forces people willing to migrate to work hard and add value to American society. This eventually benefits them largely.”
In the past, Diganvker has said that if Democrats were to win this election, they would only focus on impeaching President Trump. As somebody who has himself admitted to possible Russian meddling in the elections, why does he not think that it is only fair in a democracy to do that. He says, “Well, all I mean is when you proceed through impeachment, development takes a back seat. We can’t stop focusing on healthcare reforms, border security, education. The democrat intent is not for growth of nation.”
“After all,” he signs off, “we may not necessarily need a Princeton, Harvard-educated person but someone who is ready to study the grassroots of the United States to represent us,” stressing on his candidature for the upcoming elections.