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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Will the rise of Kamala Harris prove to be an advantage to India?

The selection of a ‘half-desi’ woman in the United States as the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee for the polls has been quite a matter of celebration for us 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 maybe Kamala will play a key role in this process. The question though is will the rise of Kamala Harris prove to be an advantage to India? Let’s find out!


Who is this despicable woman?

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.”

So, who is this feisty woman? According to an NDTV report, footage from a 2009 Oprah Winfrey episode introduces Harris as a “superstar prosecutor” who became San Francisco’s “first African-American and female District Attorney.” It shows her taking the oath. Then, it ends with her saying, “My mother who was a very strong influence on my life always said, Kamala, you may be the first to do many things but make sure you’re not the last.” In 2011, Harris was elected the Attorney-General of California, which was again a first time for a woman and African American. But this is not it, her hidden identity that doesn’t always gain the spotlight is that she the first Indian-American woman to achieve all this.
Kamala Harris, now 55, is the first Black woman and the first-ever person to be nominated for national office in the US by a major party- the Democrats. She has spent most of her life as a prosecutor and definitely was the safest choice available to Biden for the vice-presidential position.


Harris’ views on India and her origin

No matter how much we rejoice back in India, we should never forget that her story is American. Shubhajit Roy, a leading author associated with the Indian Express and the Financial Express, however, considers Harris’ nomination “very relevant to India: she had backed another US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and had obliquely criticised External Affairs minister S Jaishankar in December last year for not meeting her and other Congress members due to Jayapal’s criticism of the Indian government regarding Kashmir. On another occasion, when she was asked to comment on the Kashmir situation after the abrogation of Article 370, she had said, ‘we are watching’.”
Her mother, who is of Indian origin, has been an integral part of her numerous speeches. At a sworn-in ceremony including 41 children and youth, in 2017, Harris had said: “Looking at this group, I can’t help but think of a young woman roughly the age of many of you. She was born in Chennai, in the south of India, where she had been a talented singer and a precocious student. And this young woman dreamed of becoming a scientist. She wanted to study at one of the top universities in the world, the University of California, Berkeley. She was only 19, but her father let her travel halfway around the world, with the agreement that when she finished school she would return home to traditional Indian marriage. But at Berkeley, this young woman met a young man, also an immigrant. A top economics student from Jamaica. And so, instead of an arranged marriage, she went against the thousand years of tradition and chose a love marriage. That woman was my mother Shyamala Gopalan. It was a hard choice and a brave choice that she made, fuelled by love and optimism.”
Not just Harris but her recent associate Joe Biden has also made his views pretty clear on Kashmir: “In Kashmir, the Indian government should take all necessary steps to restore the rights of all people of Kashmir; restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting down the internet, weaken democracy.”
Harris has also spoken out in favour of immigrants and she was clearly against Trump’s Muslim immigrant ban.


How the Indian connect might help

“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, in the view of Amitabh Mattoo, a columnist associated with the Indian Express, the life Kamala Harris “is as much an Indian story as it is a part of the so-called American dream. 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.” He also adds that “the main contours of the foreign policy of a potential Biden-Harris administration are far from clear. But it is safe to say that the Democrats are equally concerned about China, are tough on terrorism and have deep suspicions about foreign countries undermining the democratic process of elections in the US.”

While several theories about her impact will come out now, what we will have to wait and see is if the partnership happens and how it will benefit India. For now, Indians can be elated with just the election of a ‘half-desi’ woman in mainstream US politics.


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