They are no longer content with their stereotyped professional roles — be it as software engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, professors, scientists and what have you. Indian-origin Americans are now on the quest for the holy grail: they want one of their own kind to occupy the White House.
“Yes, the traditional professions which first-generation Indians practised here — as small shopkeepers, cab drivers, software developers, medical professionals or diamond merchants — have become mundane for those born here. The American desis are today striving for highly-visible positions in politics, government, armed forces and banking … indeed, the Indian-Americans born here have lofty ambitions of wanting the President’s chair,” says Amit Desai, a law graduate employed with a New York law firm. He was referring to the jus soli principle, under which only US-born persons can run for the nation’s highest office.
Kamala Harris, who campaigned in the 2020 President’s office, was born in the US of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father. She dropped out of the race as her chances of being selected as the Democrat candidate dimmed, but the then Presidential candidate Joe Biden invited her to become his running mate. Harris is the first — coloured — woman to become the vice president. Whether Biden will again want her as his running mate in the 2024 Presidential race, remains to be seen.
Another woman of Indian descent, Nikki Haley, announced her intention to run in the Presidential race in 2024. Haley, whose maiden name is Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, was born in South Carolina in 1972 to Sikh parents who emigrated from Punjab. She comes with considerable political capital as a successful two-term governor of South Carolina. Later, she profiled herself as the US permanent representative to the United Nations, holding centre stage position in international diplomacy.
Between Don and Ron
By joining the Presidential race, Haley will be a rival to Trump. Haley also faces potential competition from Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, who has his sights on the President’s office. Haley’s arduous task will be to hit the right note “between Don and Ron”, as she sometimes refers to her two rivals, in the Republican primaries, the so-called “trial by fire”, before one can confront the Democrat rival in the final nationally televised verbal duel.
While announcing her candidature for the Presidential run, Haley said that “we’re ready … to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past”, suggesting that she would bring not only fresh ideas for leading the nation but also represent a new generation of leadership. But some have also criticised her for saying that she would call for a “mental competency test” for politicians over 75 years. Was this a dig at Trump or Biden, both of whom are over 75?
Opinion polls suggest that Trump and his rival DeSantis would take the lead and clash against each other for the Republican candidature, while Haley would be a distant third.
But Haley still enjoys considerable Republican support. Indeed, analysts contend that if the ongoing feud between Trump and DeSantis escalates into a personal mudslinging match, the obvious alternative would be Haley whose restrained temper, political competence, conservative ideas and personality appeal to her Republican supporters. But is America’s Republican Party prepared to fully support a female candidate of Indian ethnicity for the White House job just as the UK. Conservative party has done with Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street?
But Republicans could stop the Trump/DeSantis feud by offering Haley the vice president’s post. She could become a kingmaker for either Trump or DeSantis, depending on who gains the upper hand, just as Joe Biden did with Kamala Harris. She could step in as the Republican candidate if both Trump and DeSantis failed to impress the electorate. After all, many Republicans agree, Haley represents conservative values and name recognition within the Republican Party.
Try again till they succeed
Meanwhile, a third gladiator of Indian origin has entered the Colosseum to fight the Presidential battle. Vivek Ramaswamy, a 37 year old entrepreneur, whose parents immigrated from Kerala to the US, is a former biotechnology executive, he has wrote “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam” which was published in August 2021.
Ramaswamy also wrote “Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellency” which was published in September 2022.
Ramaswamy, a Republican, founded Roivant Sciences in 2014 and led the largest biotech IPOs of 2015 and 2016. In 2016, he was ranked 24th on the ‘America’s Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40 2016’ list.
Though his plans to bring about change in America have been vague, his pronouncement during a talk show about starting a cultural movement to create a “new American dream” by following the “pursuit of excellence”, implicitly suggests that he would not be satisfied with what some experts describe as “averageness”.
He was blunt about his disapproval of the corporate world’s increasing “woke leanings” on racism and climate; this propensity, he reminds the corporate world, hurts businesses as well as the nation. He has also been emphasising that he would reduce America’s dependence on China. Education seems to be his mantra for a better America.
However, many Indian-Americans do not share Ramaswamy’s views, describing his campaign as lacking proper content and electorate messaging. Though he is “clean” and keeps a very busy schedule because of his corporate commitments, some Indians feel that Ramaswamy does not present a clear agenda for the country.
He has not, for instance, said much about how to improve the nation’s Medicare programme for senior citizens who face difficulties in getting proper medical attention. His plans for modernising and expanding the country’s inadequate infrastructure are equally vague. Even two months after declaring his Presidential ambitions, Ramaswamy remains an enigma to many.
Besides the Presidential race, many Indian-Americans have already made inroads into the US. Congress and the state assemblies to articulate their interests in the US. There is also the so-called “samosa caucus” in the US. Congress, with its five members Kamala Harris, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna and Ami Bera having profiled themselves on the national scene.
But Indian-Americans will need to work hard to achieve the nation’s highest office. Politics is not a “piece of cake”, as we say in America. The desi candidates need to try, try and, yes, try again till they succeed.
Manik Mehta is a New York based journalist who writes extensively on foreign affairs/diplomacy, UN, and US bilateral relations.