The year 2016 is a watershed moment for India, as a record number of 5 Indian-Americans made a mark in US Congressional politics. Add to this the fact that two of them are women politicians. This is the first time that there will be more than one Indian American candidate serving simultaneously at the US Congress. It is a clear progress for the 3.4 million strong community, which represents about 1 percent of the total population in the US. The first Indian American to serve in the US Congress was Dalip Singh Saund, a member of the US House of Representatives in the late 1950s.
Here’s a snapshot of the five Indian Americans who were elected to the US Congress yesterday.
Becoming the first woman of colour to represent California at the upper house of the Congress is Senator elect Kamala Harris. The Senate race between Democrat Harris and her Orange County rival, Loretta Sanchez, was a historic one since California had never before elected a black or a Latino representative to the US Senate. Under the state’s nonpartisan blanket primary law the top candidates from the primaries, irrespective of their party affiliations, advance to the general elections, thus allowing both the Democrats, Harris and Sanchez, to compete.
Harris’ father is a Jamaican of African descent making her the second black woman to join the Senate. But she maintains her proximity to her Indian roots, having been raised by her mother, Shyamala Gopalan after the latter’s divorce. Harris follows the Baptist Faith. She is also the first woman to be elected as the District Attorney of San Francisco district and also the first woman to be elected as the Attorney General of California state. Harris will succeed Barbara Boxer, who had served four terms at the Senate.
Dr. Ami Bera has been re-elected to the House of Representatives for a third term. The doctor of medicine has been representing California’s 7th congressional district since January 2013. He was the only Indian American in the last house and is now set to be the longest serving member of the community in the US Congress.
In May 2016, Dr. Bera’s campaign faced a setback when his father, Babulal “Bob” Bera, was found guilty of violating campaign finance laws. Having maxed out his campaign contribution limit, Bob Bera had persuaded family and friends to make contributions while reimbursing them. He was then fined US$100,000 and sentenced to a prison term of a year. Ami Bera denied any involvement or knowledge of the activity. Having been cleared of involvement by prosecutors, Ami Bera returned to active campaigning. He won his Republican rival Scott Jones by a much lower margin this year.
Pramila Jayapal went to the US to study at the young age of 16. Little did she know then that in 2016, at the age of 52, she would go on to become the first Indian American woman to be elected to the US Congress House of Representatives. Chennai born, Jayapal is the member elect from Washington’s 7th congressional district (Seattle and neighbouring area) and is a Democrat. She will be succeeding senior politician Jim McDermott, having defeated her opponent Brady Walkinshaw. Jayapal had previously served in the US Senate and is a well-known advocate of immigrant community and the issues faced by them. In 2013, she was hailed as the “Champion of Change” by the White House for her exemplary work in this field. In April 2016, she received the endorsement of Bernie Sanders, the former presidential hopeful of the Democratic Party.
Raja Krishnamoorthi’s parents hail from Chennai and he was born in New Delhi. His family moved to New York when he was very young and Raja went on to become an alumnus of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. An early interest in politics brought Krishnamoorthi to Obama’s 2000 election campaign office, which he enthusiastically joined as a staffer. Raja’s continued interest in politics threw him into the arena and he announced his nomination for the US House of Representatives seat from the 8th Congressional District of Chicago, a seat left empty by Tammy Duckworth, who won the Senate seat from Illinois. Raja Krishnamoorthi is a thorough Democrat, endorsed by outgoing President Barack Obama and defeated his Republican rival Peter DiCianni. DiCianni is the former Mayor of Elmhurst. He became the first Indian American to be elected to the US Congress this election cycle.
Rohit ‘Ro’ Khanna comes from an illustrious family of Indian freedom fighters. His family moved to the US before Khanna was born. Khanna was appointed to the United States Department as a Deputy Assistant Secretary by President Barack Obama in 2009 and went on to join the White House Business Council. Having lost the election to the US House of Representatives in the 17th Congressional District of California in 2014, Khanna decided to run again. Yesterday, he defeated incumbent Democrat Michael Makoto “Mike” Honda despite belonging to the same party. The two had made it to the general elections due to California’s policy. Ro Khanna is a digital economy evangelist but also supports reviving the ailing manufacturing sector of the US. He has received a great deal of support from the Indian American community in Silicon Valley.