Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Assertive Indian American Diaspora in the American Political Arena

Mohammed Badrul Alam | November 23, 2016 10:28 pm Print
In a way, it shows the maturity of the Indian ethnic community in the United States and their willingness and determination to participate in the politics of America. A number of organizations, such as India League of America and the Association of Asian Indians in North America have taken leading steps in this direction.
File : Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump lights a diya before delivering remarks to the Republican Hindu Coalition

Within the United States, the Indian American group in recent years has taken proactive interest in the political process of the country. During Kennedy’s Administration, Dilip Singh Saund, a member of the Indian ethnic community, was successfully elected to the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress. Since then, a number of persons of Indian origin have contested for various political offices under both party tickets (Democrats and Republicans). This Political participation by Indian Americans and their affiliated groups, is also being reflected in the 2016 Presidential race of Republican Donald Trump and Democratic Hillary Clinton as well as Republican and Democratic contenders in the primaries. In a way, it shows the maturity of the Indian ethnic community in the United States and their willingness and determination to participate in the politics of America. A number of organizations, such as India League of America and the Association of Asian Indians in North America have taken leading steps in this direction.

A certain number of Indian political associations have been created in the US as early as the 1970s, realizing the need to get organized and to articulate their interests in a collective voice. Such is the case of Association of Indians in America (created in 1967) and of the India League of America (founded in 1972). But except for the fact that at the end of the 1970s, the Association of Indians in America strongly and successfully lobbied in favour of a separate classification for Indians in 1980 census, none of these associations have been able to achieve much in terms of political gains, their political activities being reduced to donations and to photographs taken with prominent politicians.

One of the leading India-friendly bodies has been  IAFPE (Indian American Forum for Political Education). The Indian American Forum for Political Education is the premier organization with 28 chapters across the United States and the most prominent political voice of over 2 million Indian Americans in the United States. It was established in 1982 to serve as a non-partisan, non-profit, political educational forum in Washington, D.C. Members from all over the United States discuss political issues of their concern, participate in their communities, and find meaningful ways to strengthen ties between the United States and India.

The US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), another influential ethnic Indian American organization was founded in October 2002. The USINPAC office in Washington DC was opened in 2003 and the New Delhi office opened in 2005. USINPAC was established to present a unified voice to Congress and impact policy on issues of concern and significance to the Indian American community. USINPAC was founded because there was a need for the Indian American community to present a unified and consistent voice to Congress. USINPAC also began working closely with other Indian-American organizations to promote fair and balanced policies, and create a platform to encourage the entry of Indian-Americans in the political process. It also facilitated in setting up of Caucus group for India in the US Congress enlisting support of over 100 members of Congress in both houses from both political parties, Democrats as well as Republicans.
Within the United States, the Indian American group in recent years has taken proactive interest in the political process of the country. During Kennedy’s Administration, Dilip Singh Saund, a member of the Indian ethnic community, was successfully elected to the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress. Since then, a number of persons of Indian origin have contested for various political offices under both party tickets (Democrats and Republicans). This Political participation by Indian Americans and their affiliated groups, is also being reflected in the 2016 Presidential race of Republican Donald Trump and Democratic Hillary Clinton as well as Republican and Democratic contenders in the primaries. In a way, it shows the maturity of the Indian ethnic community in the United States and their willingness and determination to participate in the politics of America. A number of organizations, such as India League of America and the Association of Asian Indians in North America have taken leading steps in this direction. A certain number of Indian political associations have been created in the US as early as the 1970s, realizing the need to get organized and to articulate their interests in a collective voice. Such is the case of Association of Indians in America (created in 1967) and of the India League of America (founded in 1972). But except for the fact that at the end of the 1970s, the Association of Indians in America strongly and successfully lobbied in favour of a separate classification for Indians in 1980 census, none of these associations have been able to achieve much in terms of political gains, their political activities being reduced to donations and to photographs taken with prominent politicians.
Due to stupendous efforts made by these and other Indian American associations, in 1994, Kumar Brave and Upendra Chivukula – the first Indian Americans – from Maryland and New Jersey respectively were elected to their respective state legislatures. In the year 2000, Satveer Choudhary became the first state senator to be elected in Minnesota. He was re-elected in 2006 as well. Iowa State Representative Swati Dandekar, Democrat, also won for the third time. Several Indian-Americans have held the position of mayor as well. They include: Bala K. Srinivas in Hollywood Park, Texas, John Abraham in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Arun Jhaveri in Burien, Washington. The just concluded 2016 Congressional race held on November 8 witnessed an unprecedented year for the Indian American diasporic community. All of the five Indian Americans in the race for US Congress won: Pramila Jaypal from Washington state, Ami Bera and Ro Khanna in California and Raja Krishnamoorthi in Illinois, won seats for the US House of Representatives. The fifth is Kamala Harris who ran for US senate from California and she made history as the first Indian American ever elected to the upper chamber US Senate by winning the Golden State of California. This is the highest number of Indian Americans ever to have been elected for US Congress, and is a major landmark for an assertive ethnic diasporic community in search of greater political clout.

During President Barack Obama’s November 7-9, 2010 visit to India and his second visit as the Chief Guest for Republic Day Parade on January 26, 2015, Asian Indians residing in the United States have been instrumental in the shaping of several important policy measures including voicing support for India’s entry as a permanent member in the UN Security Council, supporting India’s full membership in the four multilateral export control regimes( Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australian Group, and Wassenaar Arrangements) , US-India High Technology Cooperation, Commitment for UN Democracy Fund and Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative – all geared towards inclusive growth, mutual prosperity and strategic and economic cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies. It is very likely that under the new Donald Trump presidency, Indo-US relations will scale greater heights in a positive direction.

A coalition pattern, in conjunction with other ethnic groups, such as Italian Americans, Greek Americans, Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, etc, may be an ideal type for the Asian Indians to pursue. At the formative stages of building up a political front, these steps leading towards ethnic solidarity are an interesting proposition.

Mohammed Badrul Alam
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