2016 is distinctive in the number of Indian Americans who have a serious shot at entering the U.S. Congress.
California Attorney General Kamala Devi Harris, who is of Indian and African American descent, is widely tipped to win her race to become the first Indian American to enter the U.S. Senate.
Ro Khanna, who is running in California’s 17th U.S. Congressional District, which includes Fremont, Santa Clara and San Jose, pulled off an upset against incumbent Democratic Congressman Mike Honda in the June primary and is the odds-on favorite in their rematch in November.
Raja Krishnamoorthi is considered the front runner in Illinois’ 8th U.S. Congressional race, a safe Democratic seat, to replace Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who is retiring to run for U.S. Senate.
State Senator Pramila Jayapal is likewise considered a virtual shoo in the election to Washington’s 7th U.S. Congressional District, which covers Seattle.
Should they all prevail, the four are likely to join another Indian American currently in Congress — Ami Bera, of California’s 7th U.S. Congressional District, covering Sacramento. Many Indian Americans have also embraced Tulsi Gabbard, of the 2nd U.S. District of Hawaii, who although not Indian American is the first Hindu to serve in Congress.
The potential quintupling of the Indian American representation in Congress is startling considering that just a decade earlier, Bobby Jindal became only the second Indian American to enter Congress in 2005, after Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian elected to Congress in 1957, representing the 29th District of California.
At least two dozen Indian American candidates are also on the ballot for state offices this year, including Kesha Ram, who is running for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. Indian Americans have tasted considerable success at the state and local levels in past however. Kumar Barve has served for 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, including as majority leader from 2002 to 2015. Upendra Chivukula, currently Commissioner of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, served for 12 years in the New Jersey General Assembly, including as Deputy Speaker from 2007-2015.
Most notably, Bobby Jindal became the first Indian American elected to a statewide office as Governor of Louisiana from 2008 to 2016, followed by Nikki Haley who was reelected last year as governor of South Carolina.
Indians Running for Federal Office
17th U.S. Congressional District (Silicon Valley, including Fremont, Santa Clara, Cupertino, North San Jose)
7th U.S. Congressional District (Sacramento)
8th U.S. Congressional District (Chicago)
7th U.S. Congressional District (Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Unions counties)
7th U.S. Congressional District (Seattle)
Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress, who is widely tipped for a position in a Hillary Clinton cabinet, says: “As first generation immigrants, it sometimes takes longer for people to get involved, but particularly in this election with the Republican rhetoric we can see how much of a difference it will make.”
Subba Rao Kolla, a real estate agent and Virginia delegate, greeted the GOP convention with a Namaste, as he announced the state’s roll call to a national audience.
Kesha Ram. At least two dozen Indian American candidates are also on the ballot for state offices this year, including Kesha Ram, who is running for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont.
Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is considered odds on favorite to win Illinois’ 8th U.S. Congressional District general election in November, says: “Indian Americans do not vote as much as they should, which is crucial to increasing their representation.”
Peter Jacob, Democratic Party candidate in New Jersey’s 7th U.S. Congressional District, says: “The highest concentration (of Indian Americans) lives right in my home state of New Jersey. However, only 20 percent of Indian American citizens vote…. New Jersey has never had an Indian American congressperson.”
Shekar Narsimhan, chairman and founder of the AAPI Victory Fund, which seeks to promote Asian American civic participation, says: “We have had three (Congressmen) in 60 years, but in 2016 itself it could be three more.”
Khyati Y Joshi, chair of the New Jersey South Asian Coalition: “Those whose parents came to the U.S. post the 1965 Immigration Act had no role models to believe that they can make a difference, but things have changed since then.”
Adi Sathi, vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party: “Even when I got involved in politics, I got a backlash from fellow Indian Americans as it is unchartered territory. Our priorities are to become financially stable.”
Democrat Ro Khanna, who is hoping to knock off incumbent Mike Honda in California’s 17th Congressional District, says: “As the community is looking forward and getting more involved we will be looking at a bigger representation.”
Ami Bera, currently the only Indian American member in Congress, says: “People are frustrated when politicians in both parties blame one another without offering solutions.”
Thomas Abraham, an Indian American community organizer, delivering the roll call for Connecticut at the Democratic Convention.
Kamala Harris California Attorney General Kamala Harris is poised to become the first Indian American U.S. senator