Even as the decade came to a close, Indian-American ‘influencers’ are looking at the prospects of the community to be at the policy-making table defining the priorities of the nation, in politics, the economy, foreign policy, in business, in the non-profit world, and in the arts and sciences, and expect it to move upward and forward in 2020 and beyond. While calls for unity within the Indian-American community continue, what emerged from the interviews and responses from some ‘influencers’ is the divides within the community which lie along the fault-lines of whether to prioritize domestic politics over U.S.-India relations; and the predictable ideological Republican over Democrat allegiance.
Just as 2019 was ending, Indian-Americans scored victories in state legislatures and many are preparing for and running campaigns to win more seats at the state and on Capitol Hill. In Virginia, Ghazala Hashmi won a State Senate seat and Suhas Subramanyam won in the House; Earlier in the year, other Indian-Americans, both youth and adults, made their mark in politics as well as in the business world, in science, the arts world. In the U.S. Senate and the House, five Indian-American lawmakers made their mark, one of them, Sen. Kamala Harris, even launching a bid for the White House.
“2020 is poised to be our biggest year yet. We’re preparing for historic levels of Indian American political participation, and a large groundswell of Indian American candidates running for office. We look forward to continuing to build power for our community, and we’re excited to get to work!” declared the founders of Indian American Impact Fund, a PAC that supports members of the community running for office.
IMPCT co-founders Deepak Raj, businessman from New Jersey and Raj Goyle, former Kansas State, noted that during 2019, it “endorsed and supported candidates at the local, state, and federal levels, from across the country, from California, to Texas, to Louisiana,” citing the instances mentioned above. IMPACT Representative, described 2019 as “an incredible year” for the organization, the first of its kind. They praised Sen. Kamala Harris for her “exceptional campaign” which even if now out of the picture for the presidential run, they remained “enormously proud” of her. “…and we know that she’s made an extraordinary impact on the race. We look forward to supporting her bright political future in the years to follow!”
Raj and Goyle expect to influence scores of Indian-Americans wanting to join politics in the future. At their September 2019 IMPACT Summit, the organization held a training session “for dozens of local, state and federal candidates,” who will be in 2020 races and after that.
In Virginia, IMPACT endorsed Hashmi and Subramanyam whose “victories were crucial in flipping Virginia’s House of Delegates and State Senate into Democratic control.”
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, one of the five Indian-American lawmakers and one of the most visible on mainstream media, told News India Times he wants to see the community and the country come together in 2020.
“In these times of division, it’s more important than ever to remember how much more unites us than divides us,” Krishnamoorthi said. His top priority in Congress is to fight to make the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, H.R. 1044, become law to help eliminate the decades-long green card wait for so many H-1B holders and their families, an overwhelming majority of whom are Indians.
House Res. 1044 eliminates the per-country limits on employment-based visas and establishes a fairer system through a “first come, first served” policy while increasing the per-country limit on family-based visas from 7 percent to 15 percent.
“By leveling the playing field for high-skilled workers regardless of their country of origin, we can keep families together while building an even brighter future for them and for our entire country,” Krishnamoorthi noted, and his effort in 2020 is to get the Senate behind the measure which has been passed by the House already.
As for what areas that the community could work more on in 2020, Krishnamoorthi said Indian-Americans had increasingly shown their strength and commitment to this nation through making their voices heard on a wide range of issues, at the national, state, and local levels.
“I think it’s important we continue to build on this engagement because if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu. Through building on our achievements and becoming even more engaged, we can bring our own proverbial chair to the table,” Krishnamoorthi said.
The achievements of the community and its contributions to the United States of America, Krishnamoorthi said, lay in their daily commitment to work hard, educate themselves, bring up families, go to their houses of worship, and generally live their lives well, and help all those in need.
“We’re proud of our heritage, our family, and cultural histories, and we’re proud to be Americans. But we’re also a diverse and varied community, and I think our achievements in the service of our country need to represent that,” Krishnamoorthi said, adding, “President Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘whatever you are, be a good one’. There’s a lot of truth in that, but I’d add to it, “whatever you do, find a way to help other people.” As long as Indian-Americans continue to do this, we will continue to be successful.”
Republican State Representative in Ohio Niraj Antani wants to build on the 2019 highs that the Indian-American community reached.
“Last year saw the President of the United States speak to 50,000 Indian Americans and speak about common values, shared goals, and a unified purpose,” Antani reminisced, referring to the Sept. 22, 2019, meeting between President Donald Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston at the ‘Howdy Modi!’ event.
“We can only build on that in 2020. Our community will continue to develop be America’s doctor, business owner, engineer, and yes, public servant. We must find a way to unify more with each other to advance our community,” Antani told News India Times.
There are areas that the community can improve upon, he suggested. “We must do a better job in advocating for the US-India relationship, particularly surrounding the abrogation of Article 370. We must demand our federal government support Prime Minister Modi on this action,” Antani maintained, referring to the revoking of the special status for Jammu & Kashmir, which was passed by India’s Parliament and came into force amid considerable protests, including a lockdown on Kashmir, which is now showing signs of being lifted over five months.
As to what achievements of this community mean for America going forward, Antani was confident Indian-Americans would “continue to create jobs through business endeavor, save lives by the hands of physicians, and engineer new solutions to grand problems.”
“In that, we should strive to help all Americans more, just as we have done since the first Indian immigrants to America,” Antani emphasized.
“2020 is the beginning of a new decade and therefore as a community we need to be strategic on how can we position ourselves to be impactful” asserted Ann Kalayil, executive director of the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute in Chicago.
Kalayil cautioned the community to “not get consumed” in the South Asian politics overseas and was essential to “strip ourselves of the communalist paradigm.”
Indian-Americans live in a secular country “and our approach to organizing and developing policies need to be rested upon this framework. While our religious identities are important they need to be inclusive and open to empowering all,” Kalayil told News India Times.
“Let us work towards strengthening the South Asian American community to be an impactful and vital group in America,” Kalayil urged. The main vehicle to reach that objective, she said, was the 2020 Census.
“In 2020 Census is key! We need to ensure an accurate count for our communities and make every effort to get people to fill out the census form. We do not matter if we are not counted,” Kalayil said. Plus, getting people to get out and vote, was an obvious plus, she added.
An area Indian-Americans need to do more in the U.S., she said, was giving to causes within the country.
“While we often celebrate our heroes and achievements, our record in philanthropy needs to improve. Those who can need to contribute to help those who need help. Let’s work towards helping those in our community who need to be lifted up,” Kalayil maintained.
Shekar Narasimhan, founder of the AAPI Victory Fund, which supports candidates of Asian descent, expressed similar views.
“At a critical time in our history, Indian Americans should be looking forward. Which means focusing on domestic issues and civic engagement here,” Narasimhan said.
“I find the fascination with Indian politics to be discomforting because it does not serve our children and grandchildren well. They belong here and we owe it to them to engage here, use our resources here to address inequity and to register, vote and make our voice hears,” Narasimhan contended, adding, “So, my 2020 wish for our community is: increase our civic engagement and support causes in the US- it needs us/you and it’s our time to make a difference!”
Ankur Vaidya, former president of the Federation of Indian Associations-NYNJCT, and currently member of the organization’s board of trustees, called for unity among Indian-Americans.
“Unify Unify and unify some more. Our community needs to break the divisional geographical and sub-sected (sic) inter-religious divides which have fragmented our community at large for hundreds of years,” Vaidya said. “Unfortunately that genetic disorder even though possible to shed has not been dealt with sternly. Needs to be done and done now!” he asserted.
As to what this community could further do for America, was to recognize the generational challenges facing the country and Indian-Americans.
“(We need) to recognize the changing times in terms of the global change but quiet change that is coming that has all the tell tale signs that our generation tomorrow will face a much formidable competition (sic) on all fronts be it our younger generation competition educationally or whether it be scales of economy,” Vaidya predicted. Add to that the rapid growth in the Asian countries which could not be ignored as a challenge.
He also dwelt on the issues currently raising their head in “Our motherland” India, especially on how to handle international relations and preventing misinterpretations he believes are rife about recent events, and which Indian-Americans needed to tackle because of all that India had done for them in the past.