By Mansi Patel and Sanjeev Joshipura*
The 2020 election cycle has proved that Indian Americans have fully immersed themselves in the political fabric of the U.S.
The 2020 U.S. presidential election, which saw the highest voter turnout in 86 years, has been historic on many fronts. The 2020 election cycle holds special significance for our Indian American community in particular.
First and foremost, the ascension of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to become the first woman, the first African American and the first Indian American elected Vice President in the U.S. is a proud moment for our community and for our country. In the span of two generations, Kamala’s mother emigrated from India, arrived in the U.S., and gave birth to her daughter, who throughout her career proceeded to set racial or gender milestones, whether as San Francisco’s District Attorney, California’s Attorney General, U.S. Senator, and now, as our Vice President-elect.
The fact that this trailblazer for our nation is of Indian heritage is a proud moment indeed for the Indian diaspora in our country and even globally. It has reaffirmed for so many the American Dream, of the U.S. being a land of opportunity for immigrants. It also has renewed international interest regarding Indian heritage, culture, and even cuisine (a viral video of actress, writer and producer Mindy Kaling has her cooking masala dosa with Kamala Harris when she was a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary.)
In addition, this 2020 election cycle has also proved to be a proud moment of political awakening for our community, where Indian Americans have fully immersed themselves in the political fabric of the U.S. Whether it is by record voter turnout from the Asian American community (while we don’t yet have a number for Indian Americans specifically, more Asian Americans showed up for early voting in this election than the entirety of Asian American voters in 2016), unprecedented numbers of candidates running for office, financial donations, organization of fellow voters, or being vocal about the issues that matter to them, Indian Americans are asserting themselves in the political process like never before.
In a milestone election cycle for the Indian American community, a conservative estimate of about 200 to 300 Indian American candidates from both sides of the aisle threw their hats in the ring for federal, state and local office. And while we came close to growing the ranks of our Congressional “Samosa Caucus,” as fondly termed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, we certainly grew the number of Indian Americans who were elected to serve in their state legislatures by at least half a dozen, establishing many more “Firsts.”
In a recent political show Indiaspora hosted the day after the election, several recently elected officials, as well as re-elected U.S. members of Congress who have helped paved their way, spoke candidly about their trials and tribulations running for office and the milestones they have achieved. Jenifer Rajkumar, for example, became the first Indian American woman elected to the New York Assembly. Nikil Saval became the first Asian American and Indian American elected to Pennsylvania’s state Senate. Niraj Antani became the first Indian American elected to the Ohio state Senate. Kesha Ram became the first woman of color elected to the Vermont state Senate. And the list goes on.
Additionally, a record number of Indian Americans running for office, there also was a record amount of financial support given by Indian Americans in this election cycle, with $3 million donated to presidential primary candidates alone. At least $10 million was donated by Indian Americans to presidential campaigns in the final months before the election, and about a quarter of registered Indian American voters surveyed before the election stated they had donated to a candidate, political party or campaign organization in this cycle.
Also, if recent appointments made by the Biden-Harris Transition team are any indication, the number of Indian Americans who will serve in the highest ranks of our new executive branch of government may grow in number compared to previous Trump or Obama administrations. More than 20 Indian Americans already have been named as part of the 500-member transition team, with Arun Majumdar of Stanford University serving as Team Lead for the Department of Energy, Rahul Gupta of March of Dimes leading the Office of National Drug Policy, and Kiran Ahuja of Philanthropy Northwest leading the Office of Personnel Management.
One of the first appointments in the new Biden-Harris administration, and perhaps one of the most important, included former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served in the Obama-Biden administration, as Co-Chair of their new Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, with Drs. Atul Gawande and Celine Gounder also named to serve on the Advisory Board.
While a few polls, including the Indiaspora-AAPI Data and the Carnegie-Johns Hopkins studies conducted before the election showed that the majority of registered Indian American voters leaned in favor of President-elect Biden before the election (65 percent and 72 percent, respectively), it is clear from preliminary election results, in which President Trump set a record for receiving the highest number of votes for a losing candidate, that Americans are deeply politically divided, and that the Indian American community is not immune to this difference of opinion.
While every candidate, organizer, or Indian American may not be of the same political affiliation nor agree on what policies are best for our community — after all, we have one of the fastest growing populations in the U.S., so a diversity of perspectives is bound to arise as our voting numbers rapidly expand — one of the largest areas for consensus that may emerge among Indian Americans is U.S.-India relations.
In the current Trump administration, Indian Americans have gained enormous recognition and political power, often serving as a conduit to help shape relations between the two nations. In the popular Howdy Modi rally, India’s Prime Minister Modi made an overt and symbolic gesture to visit Indian Americans in Houston, and President Trump joined him there, as well as making a subsequent visit to India for a Namaste Trump rally.
A Biden-Harris administration is on track to continue strengthening this partnership between the U.S. and India that previous administrations have cultivated, with former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Biden himself arguably playing one of the most noteworthy roles in setting the modern-day trajectory for the allyship between the two countries. Beginning with then-Senator Biden’s role in advocating for lifting sanctions levied against India for nuclear testing, to most recently, promising India a seat at the U.N. Security Council, President-elect Biden will continue the deep and growing friendship between the two countries that he has helped shape for the last two decades.
We can only imagine what this presidential election means for each Indian American, but suffice to say many of us will be looking forward to celebrating Diwali, a tradition which Indiaspora observed with then-Vice President Biden in 2016, and with both President-elect Biden and a fellow Indian American, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, in 2021.
* Mansi Patel serves as Senior Communications Manager at Indiaspora. Sanjeev Joshipura is the Executive Director of Indiaspora.