‘Desis Decide Summit’ draws leaders from around the country


Washington DC: More than 44 South Asian led organizations, 100 speakers, and 500 attendees from across the country participated in a two-day Impact Desis Decide Summit, on May 15-16, 2024, which focused on engaging panel discussions on a variety of topics such as Healthcare Equity, Youth who Impact, Confronting Climate Crisis, Building Inclusive Communities, and Resistance in the Face of Racism. Impact is an advocacy organization geared toward expanding Indian American involvement in the nation’s political landscape.

Lawmakers at the federal level, and state level, leading health experts, candidates running for office, film makers, and student leaders, participated in the Summit. They discussed issues ranging from mental health and finding relevant resources to address it, lowering prescription drugs prices, heightened risk of diabetes and heart diseases among South Asians, language access, tech policy matters, strategies to boost youth engagement, and the significance of digital media campaigns for broader outreach.

They also highlighted the work of Impact in advocating for adequate representation and encouraging aspiring Indian Americans to pursue public office.

One of the founders of Impact, community leader and highly successful entrepreneur, Deepak Raj, dwelt on the journey of the organization. While introducing Vice President Kamala Harris at the Summit, Raj noted, “She [Harris] and I had breakfast – must be eight years ago. And that is when we discussed about launching Impact. And she has been an incredible guiding force for this organization over the duration. She came to the first summit in 2018. And you know, here she is again,” adding that Harris has done an excellent job in defending reproductive rights for women, protecting voting rights, and ensuring gun control, in addition to working with President Joe Biden to ensure the prosperity of the US.

Biden, in his message to the Summit said, “By empowering Indian Americans and South Asian Americans to thrive in our democracy, Indian American Impact is helping expand this legacy and forge a brighter future for us all.”

Vice President Kamala Harris addressing the gathering during Indian American Impact’s Desis Decide Summit on May 15, 2024, in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

During her address, Harris stressed that her attendance not only served to acknowledge the “extraordinary” work done by Impact over the years but also to encourage those with aspirations to run for public office.  “There is so much that we still have to do as a country. And a lot of the work that we each do which is why we are here together is born out of a belief in the promise of America. And dare I say that I am empirical evidence of the promise of America.”

Harris said that the upcoming general election is raising questions such as, “What kind of world do we want to live in? And what kind of a country do we want to live in? and noted the answer is “to seek office and to participate in elections, knowing that the outcome of those elections matter in fundamental ways. Elections matter.”

She pointed to the increasing political participation by Indian Americans in the electoral process over the years, but urged more active engagement to ensure greater diversity in policy rooms and decision-making tables.

Indian American lawmakers from Capitol Hill discussed the   US-India relationship, noting that both democracies must recognize their “imperfections” and engage in discussions to collectively advance their ongoing relationship.

From Left, ABC National Correspondent and moderator, Zohreen Shah, Shri Thanedar, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, and Dr. Ami Bera at the congressional panel during Indian American Impact’s Desis Decide Summit on May 16, 2024, in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

At a congressional panel, Ro Khanna, Dr. Ami Bera, Shri Thanedar, and Pramila Jayapal delved into India-US relations while addressing a question on alleged human rights issues.

“India is an ally, and it’s an important ally and we can’t just shun India in terms of the relationship. But, we need to prioritize speaking up for human rights,” Khanna said, at the same time emphasizing that because of its colonial past, Indian leaders may see any talk on human rights, as “lecturing.” Given India’s history of being lectured by colonial powers, such an approach is “not going to be productive,” Khanna noted.

A more constructive approach was to have conversations about “imperfections” in both democracies to “collectively advance democracy and human rights,” he emphasized.

Dr. Bera cautioned, “If India loses its secular nature, it changes who she is as a country and how the rest of the world views it. I don’t think the Trump Presidency is necessarily the same as Prime Minister Modi’s” while pointing out that the United States still has a “vibrant democracy” with “vibrant opposition” represented by the Democratic Party.

Rep. Jayapal underscored the importance of being able to “critique our own country’s imperfections and any other country’s imperfections,” and maintained that is fundamentally their job in Congress.

“India is an important partner for us. It’s an important partner because of other regional dynamics as well and global dynamics,” Jayapal said adding there is a need to “Think about our values and just like we criticize the Chinese government for the treatment of Uyghurs, we have to be able to also look at what’s happening in India and call attention to it.”

Thanedar emphasized, “We need a strong US-India relationship. India historically has been playing both sides, Russia, and the US. It’s time for India to commit to a strong friendship with the United States, and that’s something that I will work on. India remains the best solution to counteract China’s aggression.”

A controversy over the entities which had been invited to the Summit, arose outside the meetings. The reputed advocacy organization Hindu American Foundation, which was not present at the Summit, criticized organizers for inviting certain panelists for one of the discussions.

Hindu American Foundation’s Executive Director, Suhag Shukla, on May 15th wrote on X, about the Impact Summit’s panel, “Building Bridges, Amplifying Impact.”

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around why Indian American Impact would platform two groups at their conference — IAMC [Indian American Muslim Council] and its partner org [Hindus for Human Rights] — that actively campaigned against and cravenly attacked Impact’s former executive director Aruna Miller, and Impact endorsed candidates like Congressmen Raja Krishnamoorthi, Shri Thanedar and others. Rewarding bad behavior only encourages it!”

The Senior Director of Strategic Communications and Partnerships at Indian American Impact Sarah Shah, in a statement to News India Times, responded to the critique.

“The Impact Summit is a community-driven event that serves as a convening for diverse communities of many backgrounds. Nearly 50 Indian and South Asian-led organizations are participating in our Summit, including a broad spectrum of voices and perspectives. Attendees may have contrasting views that do not reflect any of the official stances of Impact.”



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