A doctor at Stanford School of Medicine has jumped into the race for the U.S. Congress from California’s District 17. She is the first Republican to enter the fray that currently includes two Democrats battling each other in the Silicon Valley hub. The June 3 open primaries will select the two top vote-getters who will vie in the November elections.
Dr. Vanila Mathur Singh, 43, a political novice, has thrown her hat in the ring where two Democrats are currently vying for the top slot – longtime incumbent Mike Honda, 72, and challenger Ro Khanna, 38, a former deputy assistant secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration.
Singh is the second Indian-American physician to enter the political arena in California, the other being Democratic Rep. Dr. Ami Bera, from District 7.
In an interview with News India Times, Singh takes pains to explain that her name is derived from Sanskrit and is not the ‘vanilla’ in ice cream.
“The ‘ila’ in the name means ‘earth’ or ‘world’,” she said, a name her mother Leela Mathur, a Sanskrit buff, gave her. A clinical associate professor at Stanford School of Medicine’s Pain Management Center in the Department of Anesthesia, Singh is married to another physician, Dr. Anup Kumar Singh. They met at the George Washington Medical School in Washington, D.C., but now live in Fremont where her parents have lived since she was four years old.
Singh was born in Bikaner, Rajasthan and came to the U.S. as a 15-month-old baby with her parents Leela and Lalit Mathur, founders of the Rajasthani Association of North America who also helped establish the Hindu Temple in Fremont, Singh says. Singh is a member and volunteer of the advocacy organization Hindu American Foundation.
Singh says she and her husband decided on the run for office after a November Washington, D.C. meeting arranged by Chicago businessman and party activist Shalabh Kumar, where Republican Congressional leaders expressed an interest in her candidacy. Kumar is known as a strong supporter of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi against whom U.S. has a visa ban relating to the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat in which close to 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Kumar has formed a PAC and along with Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Tex., announced last year that the Republican Party was committed to bringing at least 10 Indian-Americans into Congressional races in the near future. Singh’s connection to Kumar and her membership in HAF drew a response from the Coalition Against Genocide, which has been against granting Modi a visa.
“Dr. Vanila Singh of the Hindu American Foundation appears to be running against the progressive politics espoused by Mike Honda and Ro Khanna,” Raja Swamy, spokesperson for the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) is quoted saying in a statement released to the press. “(Shalabh) Kumar has made it his single-minded goal to rehabilitate Modi in the eyes of the U.S. political establishment, and as such couldn’t care less for the needs of Californians of the 17th Congressional District,” Swamy adds.
District 17, which takes in much of Silicon Valley running south from Fremont and around the Bay Area, has so far seen a feisty exchange between Honda and Khanna. Khanna is reported to have garnered considerable support from IT entrepreneurs in a valley defined by giants like Apple and Google. It is unclear what impact Singh’s entrance in the mix will have in this largely Democratic district which Singh insists has independent minded voters. She likens her decision to carrying out ‘sewa’ and to late President John F. Kennedy’s call for youth to serve their country.
Besides, she argues, more doctors are needed in Congress to right the wrongs of Obamacare. Her patients have been telling her of their woes with higher premiums, and higher deductibles, and doctors are frustrated, she says.
“We need more doctors in the dialogue. The legislation needs to be adapted to how changes affect the patients. I took an oath in medical school and I feel this legislation does much harm.”
Singh registered her candidacy last Dec. 26, and says by Dec. 31, she had already raised $100,000 including $35,000 from well-wishers and extended family and another $25,00, from her own pocket.
She said she has “a group of consultants who believe in my vision” helping put the campaign together, and “tremendous’ support from the Republican Party. As for her agenda compared to the 2 Democrats in the field, she says, “I have a totally different vision – individual liberty and freedom. When government gets too large, it impacts people and crushes them.” Her website will be up shortly, she says.