US Vice-President candidate Kamala Harris; Why is she important for Indian-Americans and India?

kamala harris

From Kal Ho Naa Ho to Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna to Indian Matchmaking, the media we consume is filled with Non-Resident Indians (NRI) living the American Dream. But these people just don’t exist on film, in fact, over 40 lakh Indian-Americans exist in the real world. Moreover, one of them will soon take oath for the second most powerful office in the US. Now that Joe Biden has won the US Presidential Election, his running mate Senator Kamala Harris will become the first Indian-American Vice-President of the United States of America.

The Indian-American demographic stepped into the spotlight for the 2020 US Presidential Election. US President Donald Trump and Former Vice-President Joe Biden had campaigned heavily for the support of the Indian-American community as they are the second-largest immigrant community in the US.

The Indian-American is also among the richest minorities in America and they have been making large donations to political campaigns in the last few years. In September, At a fundraising event, the Biden-Harris ticket raised a record-breaking $3.3 million from the Indian-American community.

California Senator Kamala Devi Harris was the first woman of Indian and African origins to ever run for VP in the USA. However, Kamala Harris was not the only Indian-American who ran for office this election season. Multiple Indian-Americans are running for offices at different levels within the US Government. Four of them have actually won. Indian-American Democrats Dr Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi have all been elected to the US House of Representatives. This shows that the Indian-American community has made significant progress in the political sphere.

What does Kamala Harris’s nomination mean for India?

Unlike other famous Indian-American politicians such as Governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, Kamala Harris has not tried to shy away from her Indian roots. In her various statements, she has frequently recalled the time she spent in Chennai with her grandmother. She has considerable support in India, so much so that her fans even organised a special Puja for her in Tamil Nadu. However, just being a person of Indian-origin has little consequence at the end of the day, what makes her nomination and possible election important for India are her policies. So, let’s take a look at her policies, shall we?

  • Kamala Harris has argued in favour of the H-4 Visas. H-4 Visas are crucial for Indian IT professionals as they allow HI-1B Visa holders to bring over their immediate family members to the US.
  • The Biden-Harris ticket is overall far more liberal than the US President Trump when it comes to issues of immigration from Asia to the US.
  • Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have already come out in support of India against the People’s Republic of China’s aggression in Ladakh. They have expressed support for an open and transparent Indo-Pacific policy.
  • Kamala Harris has also spoken against state-sponsored cross-border terrorism in South Asia, which according to some professionals might be a reference to Pakistan’s activities in the region.
  • Kamala Harris has strong views on Kashmir, though she has not talked about her exact position on the issue. She had mentioned the Kashmir issue several times during her run for the Democratic nomination.

Does Kamala Harris appeal to the Indian-American community?

Kamala Harris has a broad appeal among the Indian-American diaspora that spreads across generations. She appeals to both the first-generation Indian-Americans as well as the second-generation Indian-Americans commonly known as US Born Desis. Kamala Harris herself is a second-generation Indian-American.

First-generation Americans are people who were born in India but moved to the US for a better life. This generation of Indian-American has seen success in nearly all fields such as Science, academia, technology, business and litigation but not in politics. When Harris talks extensively about her Indian mother and the upbringing that she received, it appeals to the first-generation Indian-Americans who have tried to distil the same Indian values in their children. Her success in the political sphere also suggests to the first-generation Indian-Americans that they have succeeded in politics too, an area in which they had previously not participated in.

Being a second-generation Indian American herself, Harris’s experience of being born and raised in America speaks directly to the US Born Desi crowd. The Indian identity matters to this generation and Harris has never tried to run away from her Indian roots, on the contrary, she has embraced her Indian-American identity.

What is the Biden-Harris administration going to mean for India?

We have talked about why Kamala Harris is popular in India and among Indian-American, but how is her and her running mate Joe Biden’s victory going to affect India-US relations? What does a Biden presidency mean for India?

Experts have suggested that Biden would not be as permissive of rising religious violence in India as Trump was. Delhi Riots had broken out during Trump’s visit to India earlier this year but he had not commented on it. On the other hand, Obama after his visit in 2015 has commented on the rising intolerance in the country. Biden and Harris are expected to follow in the footsteps of the last Democratic President and also not turn the other way when it comes to rising intolerance and religious violence in India. In fact, Biden has already expressed disapproval of the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) and National Registry of Citizens (NRC).

Kamala Harris’s previous statements have indicated that she was critical of the abrogation of Article 370. Harris had said in October 2019, “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.” Last year, Harris had supported her fellow Indian-origin Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal when Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had refused to attend a meeting over Jayapal’s participation. Jayapal had earlier introduced a resolution on the Kashmir situation in the House of Representatives. Now, that she is VP-elect, what would be her position on the Kashmir issue is something that the only time will tell.

A Biden presidency is expected to be good for Indians wanting to migrate to the US along with their family members. The Trump administration was very hard on immigration-related issues, the Biden administration is expected to be more lenient when it comes to immigration. As mentioned earlier, Harris has even expressed support for the H-4 visa. So, things could be looking up for Indian wanting to move to the US.

When Biden and Harris take their oaths during their inauguration ceremony in January 2021, it would definitely mark the starting of a new era of US-India relations.

(This article was written by Mohammad Haaris Beg)

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