Kamala Harris adds ‘diversity colour’ to Biden campaign

US politics made history in 2008 when the Democratic Party declared Barack Obama a presidential candidate. On Tuesday, Obama’s then running mate and Vice President Joe Biden selected Indian-origin California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate this fall, which the US mainstream media, the African and Indian-American media have hailed as “historic and rare”, […]

US politics made history in 2008 when the Democratic Party declared Barack Obama a presidential candidate. On Tuesday, Obama’s then running mate and Vice President Joe Biden selected Indian-origin California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate this fall, which the US mainstream media, the African and Indian-American media have hailed as “historic and rare”, and gave the coverage, which many say, “she couldn’t even get when she was in the run for presidential nomination from the Democratic Party”.

The Harris mania has gripped the Indian-Americans after the news on Tuesday that Biden has named the 55-year-old lawyer and politician from California as his running mate to fight the battle of his lifetime against the incumbent Republican President Donald Trump on 3 November this year. It is to be seen if the Indian diaspora will prevail in the poll campaign as many have started to say that “lotus is set to bloom” and Indian poll clone placards will be all over wherever Kamala Harris will be addressing a public rally. California-based Indian-American entrepreneur and techie Ajay Bhutoria is the creator of a multi-language campaign, including in Hindi, which says, “America Ka Neta Kaisa Ho, Jo Biden Jaisa Ho! (How America’s leader should be, like Biden)”, as part of the efforts to reach out to the Indian-American community.

Harris, whose father is an African from Jamaica and mother an Indian, has been described as a trailblazer by former President Obama. But the political pundits are just calculating if she can really make the difference for Biden in this election.

A prominent name in Indian-American community and strong Democrat supporter Frank Islam calls it ‘diversity triumphs in the Big American Dream’, something so close to millions of migrants, who have made America their home. Islam said: “She embodies America’s diversity and American Dream. Diversity makes us stronger, diversity brings us together. I hope her elevation to VP will provide lesson to current Indian government to bring people from all religion and race and draw upon their skills to build a stronger India.”

Going by the mood in Indian-American camp, she looks all set to give the perfect push to Biden camp as she not only enjoys the Indian identity, but also carries the Afro-American lineage, something the Republicans are wary of. Already, top names in Indian community are hailing Biden decision, saying it was a ‘great choice’ and a ‘moment of pride’ for the entire community in the US. So much so that Harris’ supporters on Tuesday announced to launch a nationwide campaign ‘America mein Khila Kamal’ (Lotus blooms in the US).

But, some are also raising the point if it is just an ‘identity politics’ or a ‘real gain’ for Indian community in the long run. Those questioning argue if Harris as VP to Biden will be the same for India and India-US relations as it has progressed under President Trump. It is also a fact that the strong India-US ties actually started under President Obama and VP Biden played a key role then. Of late, many from within the community are questioning if Biden would be the same as Trump with India on the issue of Kashmir, CAA and NRC. Many doubt a positive outcome. If that is so and going by Harris political graph, she has not come in support of India on Kashmir and it is to be seen if she would “really oblige” the diaspora and the country of origin on those critical issues of Indo-US diplomacy.

Having said that, Indian-Americans are elated and the political fervour that is beginning to set in despite the corona fears outdoors, is unprecedented as many are seeing as a “direct connect to the US polls with Harris nomination as VP by Biden”. “This is a great choice for our country,” tweeted Indira Nooyi, who is seen as a role model by millions of women across the world. Many see this a “moment for Indian-Americans in US politics”. Says M.R. Rangaswami, an eminent Indian-American and the founder of Indiaspora: “What an electric moment for the Indian-American community! Indian-Americans are now truly a mainstream community in the national fabric.’’

For women in the Indian-American community, it’s a moment of pride and welcoming the decision, Aparna Dave, an immigration attorney and a resident of Maryland, told The Daily Guardian: “She is the first woman of colour to run for such an important political position. She represents a multi-racial culture, which is really important and required in the US right now. Women will vote for her as she will represent their interests and same goes for the minorities.’’

Being an immigration attorney, the interest of the immigrants is high on Dave’s mind and she is also seeing hope with her candidature. Dave told TDG: “Being a daughter of immigrants, she will understand and have empathy for immigrants and will understand their contributions to the American society.” The immigrants’ visa issue is also being seen as a crucial poll factor and the Biden camp is raising it to score against Trump. It is to be seen what Harris says on this key issue in her poll campaign and also if she would deliver “immediately to make thousands from her community, waiting in Green Card queues, happy.’’

Many have also seen Harris nomination as the picture of political inclusiveness in America. She enjoys the twin lineage of Afro-American and Indian-American, both being crucial communities and fastest growing voting blocs in the country.

Former top journalist of leading US publications and now the Assistant Dean of the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Professor Jackie Jones sees this as “a wise decision”. Professor Jones, who is a woman and is from the Afro-American community, said: “Kamala Harris was a good strategic move in a traditional political way. She brings voter constituencies that Biden will need to succeed, particularly African-American voters. Her history as a prosecutor may bother some Black voters, but appeal to more conservative or moderate voters, who feared the ticket would lean too far to the left and likely will capture non-committed voters, who aren’t sure they want four more years of Trump.’’

Jones, however, points out that, “the problem will be with progressives and young people who feel the choice reflects too much old-school thinking, which led to getting Trump in the first place and now requires an extreme move in the other direction to set this nation aright.”

Jones added, “Harris’ pick is important to women, Black people and other people of color. The question is whether White women, who abandoned Hillary Clinton in droves in 2016, are willing to support a woman, particularly a woman of color. White women, unbelievably, voted against their self-interests in 2016 by choosing a bigoted misogynist, who publicly disrespects women and describes them in derogatory terms and targets them for special verbal abuse when he is challenged.”

But Jones is sceptical if Harris can ensure victory on her own, but she can influence, though. “Harris cannot, strictly on her own, move the needle far enough to victory, but she has solid constituencies who, if well-organised, could help influence other communities. She is a Howard University grad, which is among the elite of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with major, politically active alumni. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first historically African American Greek-lettered sorority, which is a major service and social organisation, which will pull in other fraternal organisation members. She will pull in support from the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights organisations, including, the NAACP. If all these groups coalesce well, she will be a major boost to the ticket and I believe that’s what drove Biden’s decision,” Jones told TDG.

Added Bhutoria, who is the fund raiser for Biden camp and a key member of his campaign, told TDG: “It’s great moment of pride and celebration for Indo-American community… Harris is a strong proven leader who has demonstrated, throughout her career a strong commitment to the community’s progressive and pluralistic values. She shares the values, hopes, and dreams of the immigrant community. Bilateral relationships between India and US will flourish in all areas including People to People, Business to Business, and industry to Industry.”

That’s something on which all eyes are currently and the Indian media is debating. New Delhi and the majority of Indian Americans, who currently are on a nationalism-high, will not like to see the new establishment in the White House, if it is the Biden-Harris combine of the Democratic Party upsetting the narrative on Kashmir, Article 370 and the strong Indo-US front against China in the Indo-Pacific region.