Harris for India?
The debate over Kamala Harris’ future relation with India as the potential VP of the US places too much emphasis on her ethnicity as a way of determining her policy stances
Kamala Harris' election might actually turn out to be a good thing for India. We do not know yet but if the Democrats win with the Biden-Harris partnership, India-US relations might have a chance to get better.
The selection of an Indian origin woman in The United States as the Democratic Party's vice-presidential nominee for the polls has been quite a matter of celebration for Indians. It should be even more for those who cannot get over their nationalistic identity — the ruling party and its followers. However, the elation seems to be missing which might be a result of Kamala Harris' views on Kashmir and being a centrist like Joe Biden and Obama. But this will not likely falter the relationship between India and the US and Kamala may well play a key role in this process.
Kamala Harris made history after being elected to the United States Senate, also being the first from California. Soon after the election, she said she would committedly oppose the anti-immigration policies of the new administration under President Donald Trump, "I intend to fight for a state that has the largest number of immigrants, both documented and undocumented." She had quite a few things to say to the President himself: "One side believes it is okay to demagogue immigrants, has proposed unrealistic plans to build a wall and is promising to break up families by deporting millions of people."
"I remember the stories that they would tell and the passion with which they spoke about the importance of democracy," Harris said in a 2018 speech to an Indian-American group. "As I reflect on those moments in my life that have had the most impact on who I am today — I wasn't conscious of it at the time — but it was those walks on the beach with my grandfather in Besant Nagar that had a profound impact on who I am today."
Keeping her Indian roots in mind, it is not unnoticed that Harris' political ideals are tied to the very soul of the idea of India and the way we were, much before America was even born as a nation. While it is still early to say if the Biden-Harris ticket will capture the imagination of the American electorate, together they could offer the world new hope and particularly bilateral India-US relations a real chance at stability and predictability beyond the Trump years.
Kamala Harris has spoken out in defence of immigrants, was against Trump's Muslim immigrant ban, and has also spoken in favour of immigrant women seeking jobs as she has batted for the H-4 visas given to spouses of H-1B visa holders.
The excitement Joe Biden's choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate has caused in India is understandable. She is half-Indian. Also, half-Jamaican and now a full American, but never mind. The big question is, because of her Indian origin, will she favour her 'mother' country, or be hostile to it to prove she is more American than Americans? This week, we are arguing why this is such a vacuous and nonsensical debate.
Whenever somebody with such a globalised genetic mix becomes famous, Indians are quick to pronounce that the better half of her came from India with pride. The presumption that a naturalised foreign citizen will be inclined towards you, and have all her old beliefs of religion, caste, ethnicity and nationalism endorsed on her new passport, is very much a small-nationality complex.
It is odd that the large, nuclear-powered nations of the subcontinent also wallow in it.
This obsession with who is pro or anti-India is particularly pronounced when it comes to American public figures. So, just as Kennedy was our best friend, Nixon was the worst enemy. And in which box would you put Bill Clinton? We will pick up this thread again soon. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, when India's relations with the US were still taut and distant, New York Congressman Stephen Solarz emerged as the true champion of better ties with India. He was immediately hailed as a friend of India or pro-India. It was variously attributed to his Indian immigrant voter base or his Jewish faith (India loves Israel loves India). Similarly, some, at various points of time have been called pro-Pakistan.
That's the test we need to apply to Kamala Harris now. It is ok for us all to carry stories and videos on her fine masala dosa-making skills, idli-sambar love, or as we notice on Tam-Brahm Twitter, Mylapore and Besant Nagar in Chennai fighting over who owns her. But to think that her view on India will be coloured by her DNA is something that experts are commenting on. With full support, but a tinge of contemplation, we must expect the best of results for India, but largely America!
The best thing about democracy is that by the time leaders reach a level where they begin to matter to you, there is enough spoken, printed and analysed about them to know where they are coming from. There is no need, in that case, for reporters to keep chasing her Indian uncle with the same question: What will inform her approach to India, her origin or her commitment to human rights? She has spoken, written and acted enough on liberal, human rights issues. At the same time, she was the attorney general of California and tough as nails with criminals, many of them Black.
There is no argument for or against, the hope is best of settlement and progress while standing for "fair policies", which is kind of fainting in India today, due to biased political gains. The hope lies in the fact that, at least with America, the commercial, economical and educational understanding expands and brings progressive satisfaction, to both nations.
Views expressed are personal