Saikat Chakrabarti, a Texas-born Harvard graduate, is the chief of staff for America’s rising Democratic star, and has been named on Politico’s ‘Power List’.
New Delhi: A 32-year-old Harvard graduate of Indian origin has recently come into the limelight for assisting Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s meteoric rise to the US House of Representatives.
Ocasio-Cortez, 29, is the youngest-ever member of the US Congress, and her chief of staff on this journey has been Saikat Chakrabarti. This has led Politico to name him on its ‘Power List’, which “highlights politicians, activists and operatives across the country who are positioned to play a critical role in the political landscape (of the US) leading up to 2020”.
Last summer, Chakrabarti’s ambitious campaign, aimed at electing progressive leaders into the US Congress, achieved the unprecedented as Ocasio-Cortez, a former waitress and bartender, won from New York’s 14th district, upsetting 10-term veteran Joe Crowley, who is nearly twice her age.
This has turned her into a bit of a poster child for the liberal Left, and a target for the American Right. The latter recently tried to troll her on social media for a college-era video clip of her dancing, but Ocasio-Cortez owned it, drawing widespread appreciation.
Conservatives creepily release video of @AOC as a teen, thinking it somehow discredits her leadership as a Congresswoman, only to have it backfire when people see it and say it proves that she’s basically been cool forever. https://t.co/L8gHQL62vO
— Shaun King (@shaunking) January 4, 2019
I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous.
Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too! ??
Have a great weekend everyone 🙂 pic.twitter.com/9y6ALOw4F6
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 4, 2019
Chakrabarti in the Twitter spotlight
For Ocasio-Cortez’s equally young chief of staff, though, this newfound fame might have led to a little bit of typically-desi embarrassment.
Matt Ortile, managing editor of Catapult magazine, shared pictures of Chakrabarti, introducing him to the world at large.
hi there hello have you met Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief-of-staff pic.twitter.com/JgqdaDHQNU
— Matt Ortile (@ortile) January 4, 2019
But soon, he replied to his own tweet, mentioning: “i can tell someone desi with a lot of followers just retweeted this bc a good chunk of people in my mentions rn are like “binch i’mma marry his bengali ass is he looking for a rishta.”
In two of the pictures posted by Ortile, Chakrabarti is sporting a T-shirt bearing a silhouette of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose — a fact not missed by the Bengalis of Twitter.
i can tell someone desi with a lot of followers just retweeted this bc a good chunk of people in my mentions rn are like “binch i’mma marry his bengali ass is he looking for a rishta”
— Matt Ortile (@ortile) January 5, 2019
Further, multiple women responded with memes expressing their interest in Chakrabarti’s dapper looks.
“I was just thinking about this (Chakrabarti’s appeal) yesterday, don’t tell my husband,” Lauren Ali replied to the tweet.
I was just thinking about this yesterday. Don’t tell my husband.
— Lauren Ali (@dancinglolly) January 6, 2019
From the bulls of Wall Street to a revolution
For Chakrabarti, the reason for pushing Ocasio-Cortez’s candidacy was simple. “We need new leaders, period,” he told Rolling Stone in November.
However, it took him some time to realise that decisions determining the kind of society we want to live in is “done through politics”, he told Politico.
Chakrabarti, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, graduated in computer science in 2007, and soon followed many Harvard grads on to Wall Street.
But then, he conceived Mockingbird, a web design tool, thanks to an aspiration to start his own company and the belief that “technology was his generation’s way to change the world” as he told Politico.
However, even the tech world proved to be more smokes and mirrors than substance, and a disillusioned Chakrabarti side-stepped into politics by joining Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2015.
While he wasn’t “entirely sure he [Sanders] had all the right solutions”, Chakrabarti told Rolling Stone that he thought Sanders “was talking about the right problems”.
It was during Sanders’ campaign that Chakrabarti met Alexandra Rojas, who was introduced by Yahoo as “a community-college student working three jobs in Costa Mesa, California”, and Corbin Trent, and a food truck owner in Tennessee. Together the three would form ‘Brand New Congress’ — an organisation dedicated to fielding likely progressive candidates for Congress by seeking nominations among their communities. In its essence, it was a truly democratic attempt at promoting local leaders.
Ultimately, Brand New Congress received 12,000 applications, of which 12 turned into actual candidates. Of these, only Ocasio-Cortez won the election. But for Chakrabarti, one win out of 12 was definitely not a defeat.
Ain’t no feeling like that revolution feeling. pic.twitter.com/Gs6XU67Vdg
— Saikat Chakrabarti (@saikatc) June 27, 2018
“We’re OK losing 90 per cent of our races, if it means that the ones we win cause the kind of shift in thinking about what’s possible — like Alexandria’s race honestly did,” Chakrabarti told Rolling Stone.
It’s this obsession with the win ratio, Chakrabarti said, that prevented the Democratic Party from recruiting someone like Ocasio-Cortez in the first place.
A smarter path to power
The American political landscape had already been changed by Donald Trump winning the presidential election in November 2016, compelling Brand New Congress to reconfigure its goals. Soon, Rojas, Chakrabarti and Trent moved towards a less polarising and more refined successor, Justice Democrats, which did not hesitate in widening its political playing field.
Along with Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — four women who symbolised the diversity of colour, class, gender and sexuality — were elected to the Congress.
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According to Politico, this is just the beginning of Chakrabarti’s plans for radical change in US society. He said he wants to “show the American people what will be possible if Democrats win the House, the Senate and the Presidency in 2020, and that means putting our best foot forward”.
“It means putting the most ambitious, the boldest, the biggest things we can, and then just build a movement around that,” he added.