The inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris marks a historic occasion for the US, accompanied by a great sense of pride, as well as expectation, from the Indian diaspora community.
Most notably, the swearing in of Kamala Devi Harris to the office of VP on January 20 opens the doors for several different demographics to see themselves represented in the highest rungs of government. The administration signals a new era of democracy for women and for people of color in the US; after all, the 48 Vice Presidents who preceded VP Harris were white men.
As a daughter of immigrants, with an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, VP Harris has visibly demonstrated to those who come from other countries and diverse backgrounds, including the fellow Indian diaspora, that they, too, can serve and aspire to the top echelons of public office.
Already, this pursuit for public service is being recognised in the new Biden-Harris administration, where nearly two dozen Indian Americans – more than half of whom are women – have been named to top positions in the incoming government, including several appointed to White House posts. In addition, more than 20 others were appointed to key positions as part of the transition team in various departments.
In fact, the Biden-Harris administration and the past election cycle may be a culmination of Indian Americans aspiring to public service in government, with more than 300 Indian Americans running for office at the federal, state and local government, and thousands more volunteering and working for campaigns.
In addition to the Indian diaspora community’s increased engagement in public service, they are also poised to continue advancing US-India relations in the new administration. Given the community’s growing numbers – the Indian American population has more than doubled since 2000, making it one of the fastest growing minority groups in America. As well as the community’s increasing influence, Indian Americans continue to be the highest wage earners in the US and are becoming more politically engaged that ever, raising more than $20 million in this past election cycle.
The Indian diaspora in the US could very well play a critical role in developing relations between the two countries during the incoming administration.
The Indian diaspora community is well positioned to bridge the countries closer together given their shared cultural values, as well as a shared commitment to democracy. Already, US-India relations have accelerated dramatically in the last few decades, and a diverse but accomplished diaspora will only carry it forward further. It is also noteworthy that President Biden himself had a hand in steering the current trajectory of the relationship, beginning with his time as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when then-Senator Biden lobbied to lift nuclear sanctions levied against India.
Of course, not every Indian American will agree with all of the incoming administration’s policies. After all, an India flag was spotted at the US Capitol protests and ensuing mob violence January 6. But strengthening US-India relations remains an area of bipartisan consensus for the diaspora community. Also, while the man sighted brandishing the India flag at the Capitol protests issued a video statement denouncing the mob violence that occurred, the flag was a stark reminder that our own community has individuals who may not be as supportive of a Biden-Harris administration as the majority of the Indian American community.
For context, a joint report that Indiaspora and AAPI Data released ahead of the election found 66 per cent of Indian voters favored President Biden, and 28 per cent favored former President Trump, and a similar Carnegie-Johns Hopkins survey found 72 per cent favored Biden while 22 favored Trump.
Just as the election demonstrated a deeply divided America, in which 81 million Americans voted for President Biden, but 74 million also voted for his opponent, the Indian American community will not be monolithic when evaluating the new administration’s policies – something to be expected in a politically maturing community.
The Capitol’s breach by violent protests earlier this month interrupted the election certification process and illustrated just how fragile a democracy can be. Yet the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris Wednesday has given hope to the diaspora community, and our country, of strengthening our democracy by making it a more representative one.
by Mansi Patel
Mansi Patel is the US-based Director of Communications at Indiaspora, a non-profit organisation connecting the Global Indian diaspora community. She previously worked at a bipartisan government relations firm and prior to that, she served Congresswoman Frederica Wilson on Capitol Hill. Born in Chicago and raised in Stuart, Florida, Mansi graduated from Northwestern University.