‘This is our time,’ say Indian Americans in politics

Indian Americans in politics. From top left clockwise: Connecticut Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, Ohio Rep. Niraj Antani, Jeremy Cooney, New Hampshire Rep. Latha Mangipudi, Rupande Mehta, New Jersey Rep. Raj Mukherji, Kesha Ram and New York Senator Kevin Thomas
From top left clockwise: Connecticut Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, Ohio Rep. Niraj Antani, Jeremy Cooney, New Hampshire Rep. Latha Mangipudi, Rupande Mehta, New Jersey Rep. Raj Mukherji, Kesha Ram and New York Senator Kevin Thomas

As many as 70 Indian Americans are running for office around the nation.

While media attention is focused vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, Indian American have made great strides in politics since they started coming to the US in the early 1960s to emerge as an influential community much beyond their numbers.

GOPIO chapters in the New York area (Manhattan, New York, Connecticut and Central Jersey) in collaboration with IMPACT Project organized an interactive Zoom session, celebrating Indian American community’s emerging political leaders in the Northeast US on Oct. 8.

Moderated by Raj Goyle, former member of Kansas State Assembly and Co-Founder, IMPACT (New York), the session showcased several Indian American leaders from the Northeast, with the audience from around the US, on how they developed interest in public service, their challenges and the sense of pride and achievement in what they have accomplished.

Describing himself as a pioneer in US politics, Goyle said, “When I had joined politics, I did not know much of politics. I was one of the first to be elected to any State Assembly. And I am proud to be part of the new generation of PIOs/NRIs in politics.”

READ: Record number of Indian Americans on ballot across the country (October 9, 2020)

Joining politics after working as a policy analyst and civil rights attorney,  Goyle has served two terms in the Kansas House of Representatives, making him the first Asian American elected to office in Kansas’ history. He is currently the CEO of Bodhala, a leading legal technology firm.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Gautam Mukunda at The Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, traced the rise of Indian Americans starting with Dalip Singh Saund, the first Indian American to be elected to the US Congress in the 1950s.

Pointing to Indian American candidates running for State elective offices in the Northeast among the speakers, he said, “Everyone of you gives me hope. People in the United States believe that Indian Americans are capable of becoming leaders in the nation.”

Connecticut State Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, seeking re-election in the 2nd District  said he got interested in entering politics, through his “commitment to environment after Hurricane Katrina devastated the nation.”

Losing the election the first time by 260 votes did not deter him from contesting again to win convincingly the second time. “It was the desire to give back to the society that prompted me to enter politics and serve the people,” he said.

READ: Indian American community rockets its way to relevance (September 4, 2020)

New York State Senator Kevin Thomas, running from Senate District 56, said, he is “proud of the community he has come to represent. My constituents sought change and they got the change by electing me.”

During his short term in the New York Senate, Thomas said, he has been successful in bringing in much needed funding to serve the diverse needs of his constituents with several new programs. He urged everyone to vote in the Nov. 3 election and make “our voices heard.”

Ohio State Representative Niraj Antani, running for Ohio State Senate District 6,  noted he is the second Indian American ever elected to a statewide office and the only Republican of Indian Origin to be elected.

“I work hard to reach across the aisle and cooperate with people in both the Parties to legislate.”

Sharing his early days and inspiration to enter politics, he said, “My parents worked hard to live the American dream. There is a need for us to be at the decision-making table.”

“Everyone is able to realize the dream. We stand on your shoulders, to carry on the Indian values.”

READ MORE: Road to the White House

Now serving his third term in the Ohio House, Antani was the youngest Indian American elected official in the US.

Jeremy Cooney from Rochester, New York, is running for State Senate  District 56 to create new and good paying jobs, improve schools and provide access to quality healthcare for all.

“I am from India. I was adopted as a young child. My commitment is to give back to the community,” he said. “We cannot control the politics of DC but can serve the inclusive New York state.”

Born in an Indian orphanage, Jeremy was adopted by a single-mother and grew up in the South Wedge neighborhood of the City of Rochester.

After losing his mother to dementia and brain cancer, Jeremy has devoted his career to serving the community that helped raise him from the YMCA to all levels of government.

New Hampshire State Rep. Latha Mangipudi, who is running again from 35th District for a fifth term, spoke about the challenges in becoming a female, non-White elected official from a White majority state.

“It was a very slow and gradual journey after I had come to the US to pursue higher studies in the 1980s.”

“I am a woman, Brown colored, first generation Indian and very vocal in expressing my views,” said Mangipudi Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence.

Rupande Mehta from New Jersey, running from Senate District 25, said, “My story is a story of dreams. Coming from Mumbai, seeking freedom, I am running for office, because representation matters.”

If elected she will be the first person of South Asian origin to be elected from his District.

Describing her story as “simple,” New Jersey State Rep. Raj Mukherji from 33rd District said, “it’s premature to say we have arrived. Our community’s vote matters. We are proud to be Brown community.”

Kesha Ram, Burlington, Vermont, running from Senate Chittenden District, said she entered politics because “I got engaged with the community for long, where we care for each other.”

One of the youngest ever to be elected to State Assembly at the age of 21, she said, she had left active politics, but now she is back to run for the Senate seat.

“As a daughter of a Punjabi from India, I try to listen and follow up. Ninety percent of what we communicate is through body language. “I strive to make people comfortable,” which helps the Indian American win people’s hearts.

The Indian American Impact Project, has a political action committee called the Indian-American Impact Fund.

Collectively known as “IMPACT,” it was founded by Raj Goyle and Deepak Raj, Chairman of Pratham USA and founder of the Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies at Columbia University.

Deepak Raj noted there are as many as 70 Indian Americans are running for office in the upcoming elections around the nation.

“This is our time,” said Raj. “Across the country, a record number of Indian-Americans are running for office. We can’t leave it to chance that they will win on their own. We owe them our support — and we have a plan to help them run, win, and lead.”

GOPIO Chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham, the coordinator of the event, underscored the need for Indian Americans to come together and help elect candidates from the community across the nation.

Shivender Sofat, President of GOPIO Manhattan, wished all the Indian American candidates success and offered whole hearted support of the Indian American community.

One Comment

  1. LOL… Niraj Antani said “I work hard to reach across the aisle and cooperate with people in both the Parties to legislate.”

    That is a bold faced lie. He has no desire to do anything except advance his own self-interest.

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