File photo of US Senator Kamala Harris | Facebook
File photo of US Senator Kamala Harris | Facebook
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An Indian-American president in the White house? That distant dream has come within a few steps to being a distinct reality. On Tuesday, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the president of the United States, made the historic announcement of Kamala Devi Harris, the junior US senator from California, as his running mate.

If Biden defeats Donald Trump to be the next US president, it follows that Harris should be vice president. More importantly, four years down the road, she will herself likely run for US president. If she wins, she will not only be the first woman, but also the first Indian-origin American to be the occupant of the White House, holding the most powerful job in the world.

Kamala Harris brings to the Democratic ticket a unique appeal. An Indian-origin politician who identifies herself as African-American, and has a Jewish husband, is sure to appear attractive to a large and important cross section of US voters.

Why then is Harris so reticent about being Indian and so vocal about being Black? And why is the American press projecting her not so much as a person of mixed Indo-Jamaican descent but much more as a Black woman? For instance, why has she been lauded for being the second Black woman ever to be elected to the senate rather than the first Indian? Is it merely identity fudging or political expediency?

In fact, even the non-Black part of her ancestry has been billed more as South Asian than Indian or Hindu.


Also read: Why Kamala Harris, with Indian & Black heritage, is a safe and smart choice for US VP


Closer to Hindu roots

As her autobiography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (2019) shows, Harris’s mother Shyamala, an Indian-born cancer scientist, was a remarkable and gutsy woman. She arrived in the US after graduating at 19 with a BSc (Hons.) in Home Science from Lady Irwin College, Delhi. She went on to do her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where she met her husband-to-be, Donald J. Harris, a Jamaican economist who taught at Stanford. Both were student activists. The marriage, however, did not prove to be long-lasting, ending in divorce when Kamala was seven years old.

Shyamala raised both her daughters – Kamala and Maya – practically on her own, as a single mother. The children came home to their grandparents in Chennai during vacations. Kamala’s maternal grandfather P.V Gopalan, erroneously referred to as a freedom fighter, actually started as a stenographer in post-Independence India. He rose to be joint secretary, Government of India. He was posted in Zambia as an advisor to the Zambian government. Kamala and Maya visited their grandparents in Zambia too.

It seems that despite the mixed parentage, Kamala Harris was closer to the Indian, maternal side and Hindu heritage of her family.


Also read: Democrats have a loyal base in Indian Americans, but Trump is fast pulling them to his side


Hinduphobia makes Hindu identity a liability

The Indian community in the US does not exceed 3 or 4 million, while African-Americans are a much bigger and older component of the US population. In the past, other would-be presidential candidates of Indian origin, such as former Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, also distanced themselves, if not completely cloaked, their Indian identity. Jindal even converted to Christianity and was baptised as a Catholic.

Similarly, Kamala Harris, who admits to going to Hindu temples, has also been reported as attending the National Baptist Convention, a predominantly Black Christian denomination. Being a Hindu politician, especially a presidential candidate, can still be a liability, as the Hindu-phobic attacks against Tulsi Gabbard show. No wonder the wealthy, powerful, influential, but small and still largely Democratic, Indian-American community has not yet welcomed Harris’s candidature as warmly as might be expected.

In the coming days, Kamala Harris will have to do a lot more to woo them. She has never denied being proud of the Indian side of her ancestry. Now she will need to be seen as Indian, not only in the United States, but also as a bridge-builder between the country of her origin, India, and her homeland, the United States. The Indian government and the diplomatic establishment will also have to factor in Harris’ candidature, to see how best to leverage it in case Biden actually wins.


Also read: No reason to believe Biden won’t be as friendly to Modi and India as Trump is


Delhi must be ready for future developments

As of now, it is the Trump administration which is much more favourable to India. When the inevitable tilt in the other direction happens if Biden wins, India needs to be prepared. An outreach to Harris would help, just as it would bolster her standing in the US’ Indian community if she reciprocates.

Regardless of who is in the White House, India has become more and more important to the United States. Today, our strategic and economic partnership is stronger than ever before. Given her previous Left-leaning record, Harris’ candidature may not engender a huge uptick in India-US friendship and cooperation. If anything, the Biden-Harris ticket is likely to tilt closer to Pakistan and the Islamic world. India must work from now onwards to ensure that this does not happen.

Purely on her own merits, however, Kamala Harris is a phenomenon. Her announcement as Biden’s running mate is thus a cause for justified celebration in both our continents. We in India must acknowledge that had she remained in India, she may not have made it to the Indian vice-presidency. No woman has. We must doff our hats to say, ‘It happens only in America!’

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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56 Comments Share Your Views

56 COMMENTS

  1. America 2020 election Democratic Party Vice President woman nominee Kamala Harris, whose father Donald Harris, a Black person from Jamaica and mother Shyamala Gopalan, a Brahmin woman from India, which is great achievement for the person of Indian origin and it should be appreciated by the people of India.

  2. America 2020 election Democratic Party Vice President woman nominee Kamala Harris, whose father Donald Harris, a Black person from Jamaica and mother Shyamala Gopalan, a Brahmin woman from India, which is great achievemet for the person of Indian origin and it should be appreciated by the people of India.

  3. When bad people hate something, then the good have to ponder. Same here. Kamala is nakali – like the demolitionists democrats. Democratic party is a fake and obscenely racist and colonial – yes, just like India’s congress party – and divide and rule is their motto. They only like power and will do anything to get that. They owned slaves of the past, and now own the illiterate voters who support them as modern slaves. Modi is a smart fellow and knows how to show these fellows their place. We saw a primer at Houston last year. BTW, Indians here know these well and will not support her.

  4. None from my social group are going to vote Democrats, though most voted for Hillary in 2016 including me. Kamala or no Kamala this would not have changed. All the pandering that Democrats are doing to Muslims and the way Biden campaign removed Amit Jani further gives credence to Democrats should not be elected as they do not represent Indian interests.

  5. if the indians in the US are largely democratic, what percentage of the republican indian community is she wooing ? it ould appear the howdy modis in america are republican – all looking for tax cuts

  6. To counter China support of India will be definitely needed irrespective of Trump or Biden. Regarding CAA or NRC ,conditions in US and India are different. India has right to make it’s own policy.

  7. It’s time New Delhi wakes up to a new possibility in Indo US relations. I wonder if we really need to get excited of Kamala Harris flaunting her Indian or Hindu origin. Her vociferous comments on Kashmir and NRC should not be ignored. Democrats have traditionally maintained anti India stance with support of Islamists lobby. New found love for India by Harris or Biden is only for garnering Votes of Indians settled there. On the other hand Trump has proved to be quite unreliable with rhetoric’s only and repeated actions against interest of India. We need to maintain fine balance between Trump and Biden as it will be very difficult to predict the next winner.

  8. Hinduism is a religion, not an ethnicity. Harris was exposed to both Hindu and Christian beliefs as a child, but she now identifies as Christian. She is not Hindu, so “Hinduphobia” is hardly a relevant construct.

    In the US, a person with one black parent is inevitably classified as “black”. Her ancestry is usually described as Jamaican/Indian or Black/South Asian, both of which are entirely accurate. Religion is a choice. It is not inherited.

  9. It was Foreign Minister Jaishankar who screwed up with the Democrats. On his visit to US in Dec 2019 he had refused to attend a meeting of US House Foreign Affairs Committee, because Ms Jayapal, who had called for end of communication restrictions and arrests under PSA in J&K in Resolution 745 moved by her in US House of Representatives, was also scheduled to be present in that meeting along with other lawmakers. Kamala Harris, the first US Senator of Indian origin, had snubbed Modi Govt saying: ‘It is wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill. I stand with @RepJayapal, and I’m glad her colleagues in the House did too’.

    Now painting Kamala as anti India to divide the American Indian vote because Modi Govt has supported Trump is a plan all can see. The fact is that Indian Americans are in America and will support an Indian American for Vice President and President, rather than support Trump because Modi supported him! More over Kamala was raised by her mother from Chennai and she visited India several times. She has openly acknowledged her mother as her inspiration. It’s time BJP and Modi embraced Kamala as India’s own beti, congratulated her, and take it easy on the ‘Howdy Modi’ event. Remaining silent is not going to help either Modi or BJP or India (under BJP) should Trump lose.

    • it can not be said better. to add that, she might have faced the discrimination not only in US but also in India. The community does not accept the girl of black father that easily. few years back a popular Carnatic singer Sutha Ragunathan had to face the wrath of the community because her daughter was getting married with a black person. Just imagine the situation 50 years back. I am not surprised if her mother was outcasted.
      Since she is successful everyone wants to own her 🙂
      The recent economic success of Indians makes them believe that the entire world is circle around them. They believe in “with me or against me” concept.
      Many Indian right wing media already started throwing mud on her. Whatever she is, She is my “Akka”, she deserves my vote.

      • Excellent retort Kallan avargale !

        Indians not only discriminate on the basis of caste and religion but also colour. They are particularly vicious towards people of African origin. Some examples:

        – West Indies cricketing legend Sir Gary Sobers was in a relationship with model Ms Anju Mahendru but her parents disapproved of her relationship with a black man.

        – Masaba Gupta, daughter of actress Neena Gupta and West Indies batting legend Sir Vivian Richard has been taunted and trolled by Indians ever since she was a child.

        – After Vocalist Sutha Raghunathan’s daughter Malavika married black American Michael Murphy calls have come for Ms Raghunathan to be banned from temples and sabhas. There are allegations that her daughter as well as Ms Raghunathan herself converted to Christianity. There are even demands that the highest honour in the Carnatic community that had been bestowed on her – the ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’ title of the Madras Music Academy – should be withdrawn from her. So too the Padma Bhushan by the central government and the Kalaimamani by the state government.

        Ms Kamala Harris is getting the same treatment that many Indians who married blacks or are the offspring of marriages between blacks and Indians get. Sadly, the aspiring Vishwaguru still runs on a mediaeval mindset. Maybe that is what being “atmanirbhar” actually is !!!

  10. We refuse to accept that a person’s self identity is composite identity. I was born to Tamil parents in Mumbai , I am both Tamil, Marathi and Indian. My life in Mumbai doesn’t diminish that I’m Tamil, neither doesn’t my Marathi living. Yet our society engages in this cultural puritanism of you’re either Tamil or not, you’re either Marathi or not. We magnify the differences rather than accept and acknowledge our common cultural heritage. Just a while ago another opinion piece published this garbage:
    “””Even our so-called ‘firangi-desi’ idols such as YouTuber Lily Singh, actor Mindy Kaling and television host Padma Lakshmi engage with Indian culture as superficially as possible and without any real meaning. They fall back on their Indian origins only when they need to. All other times, they’re as Western as they come. The exoticised and fetishised incense-stick-and-junk-jewellery vibes don’t make it any better.”””

    With such attitude towards our own community and diaspora, why would anyone embrace their Indian identity? Why would anyone acknowledge their background beyond their parents?

    Another point regarding Kamala Harris. She lived through segregation (separate school buses for Blacks), it has been traumatic event that connects emotionally with a community that’s going through pain. Also Tulsi Gabbard was pretty terrible in the primaries, genuinely came off as disconnected. You can’t have it both ways, hail Kamala and call Tulsi’s rejection as Hinduphobia.

  11. I feel sorry for you . Sonia Gandhi has done great ? Really ? Coalgate Scam , 2G scam , Tatra Truck Scam , Bofors Scam , CWG scam , Chopper Scam . I hardly see these Scam as good work done by her and her party. And they also got bailed and not clean chit from the supreme court. And don’t go on saying that supreme court, election commission , CBI , all are against her . You people play the famous ” Victim Card” showing that you are only victim and rest of the world is evil and works against you . Americans accept immigrants as their own ? Then why is there racism against blacks ? I don’t totally agree with writer but your mentality shows your hate against Hindus and Hinduism . As you were saying Hindus hate those who don’t like them, I guess than the Babur , Auranzeb , Khilji, and of descendants them wouldn’t have lived peacefully in india as according to your opinions. You people can never leave this Hindu-Muslim politics .

  12. Such a shit line in the end. India had already elected a prime minister and president in India after 1947 itself way back whereas in America, they havent given a ticket to more than 3 in more than 200 years.. It doesn’t happen in America, you morons :).. It’s a great country though in all other aspects..

  13. Pure Intellectual gymnastic with hypothetical questions. How many of us knew Kamala Harris till few years back. She is a 2nd generation US citizen, born, brought up,educated & working there. While running for US election, why should she project more of her Indian ancestry. Are we going through the fiction,”Head you Win” by Jeffrey Archer ??

  14. PM Modi will first have to face Biden’s opposition to the CAA/NRC. Biden and Harris have not tilted towards the ‘Islamic world’ as much as the Modi isolating himself internationally by linking CAA with NRC. World leaders know when not to pander to a bigot. But if you want Kamala Harris to own up about being Indian and Hindu, why don’t the RSS/Sangh Parivar openly own up to supporting Tulsi Gabbard?

  15. Keep hoping that the Kamal in Kamala will save your Hindutva asses. The tide is turning globally against the politics of hatred, majoritarianism and minority bashing. India, under Modi, is now bracketed with China, Turkey and Brazil as countries which have little respect for democratic rights or respect for rule of law. Kamala’s Indian connection is going to make the scrutiny more intense, Find a hole to hide in Makarand before the spotlight turns on you.

  16. Generally democrats are not favourable to India. So don’t expect any favours from Kamala Haris even if she wins. In any case, the Veep in the US is a figure head and not influential. When she is trying to identify herself as afro-american, and not as an american-Indian, why are Indians rejoicing over her candidature?

  17. Absolute Garbage of an article. I am an Indian American and a Hindu to boot. there is no Hindu phobia greater than discrimination of being a black in America. Both my daughters view Kamala as their own.
    you should wait for few days for a reputable pollsters to publish results if Indian diaspora’s support for Kamala before spouting that Indian Americans are lukewarm to her candidacy.

    The reason Democrats didn’t like Tulsi is not because she is Hindu but because she is a bigot and a supportive of butal dictators like Assad.

  18. Whether Indian or Black etc KH cannot be expected to do any favors for Indians or work to reduce Green card duration which last heard was 100+ waiting period. She will work only in the interest of people of US. At the most when she visits, Kamala may say Vanakam or Namaste better than Trump

  19. Typical Hindutva opinion – see something you don’t like, and then attribute the wrong reasons and motives for it.

    ‘The Indian community in the US does not exceed 3 or 4 million, while African-Americans are a much bigger and older component of the US population.’ <- That's the simple reason she's being projected as black.

    It also speaks of the difference in the American and Hindutva attitudes. While they accept an immigrant as their own, we see one as a foreigner even though she may have done more good things for us than most, as in the case of Sonia Gandhi. Funny that we want to claim any national of Indian origin as ours, while we treat someone who chooses to live here, and has even seen her husband die while serving the nation as a foreigner!

    • Did you just say Sonia Gandhi did a lot of good for India!!!???? what kind of rubbish are you smoking my friend. I would stay far away from that. It’s not just affecting your thinking, it’s also making it colorful and delusional. Good heavens. What exactly has she done? See her husband’s unfortunate death? That’s the good she’s done for the country???

    • What!
      Sonia Gandhi and good for India?
      Are you in your right sensses?She has limited India and is still wants to continue doing so!

  20. Indian-Americans earn a lot of money in the US so how is Hinduphobia affecting them negatively unless they support BJP/RSS politics which reflects back on their stance as far as what’s going on in India? Why would Democrats condone the BJP/RSS’s actions when the BJP/RSS is clearly extreme-right wing? Also, Indians are very racist towards Africans and Black people so why shouldn’t she identify as Black when she has likely faced discrimination for it, especially if she grew up surrounded by Indian culture versus Black culture? Is it Hinduphobic to criticize Hindu’s in the US who monetarily support the BJP/RSS? I would say it’s not. Stupid, misleading article pushing Hindu-supremacist identity politics.

  21. Oh and as far as Hindu Phobia goes – she has openly acknowledged her Indian roots along with her Jamaican ones. Though yes – even though her mother and maternal grandfather were the biggest influences of her life apparently – she did take her own sweet time to own her Indian heritage. She stands to gain more points politically, especially in today’s scenario if she’s black than Indian so she was just plain smart and moved in a way that would help her get what she wanted. Again, let’s see how this strategic thinking will shape her policies. Another related point – she did not disown her Indian-ness like sad Bobby Jindal did.

  22. I think it would be wiser to stop this speculation around Harris’s heritage. She’s American. Period. What exactly is expected here just because she does have Indian blood in part? That she’ll support India every inch of the way? She’s been vocal against CAA and the Kashmir issue. What she and Biden’s policy towards India will be will have to be seen. Meanwhile, this silly rejoicing I see everywhere (though not in this article) is just that – silly. Plus the silent majority in America speaks volumes when the time comes and makes its decision heard. I wouldn’t write off Donald Trump – the great Teflon just yet.

  23. Paranjpe is clueless. Majority of Americans simply do not care about religion to be phobic any religion. Post 9/11 their views of Islam might have changed a little but majority of Americans are not Islamophobic either.

    • The majority of Americans, in my experience, are quite clueless about most things. They hardly know what lies outside their home county, let alone the larger world. So Grp Fix, it might not be a good thing for the kettle to call the pot black (or African American).

  24. It should be no surprise that Kamala Harris focuses on her “Black” identity. In Indian society Brown and Black hues are looked at with disdain, as uncultured, uneducated and lesser in status.. Yes she would have been admired and and even pampered by the influential and wealthy Indian- American community as former Gov. Nikki Haley has , but she has no white father ,no visible white lineage nor fair complexion . Now that Kamala is “famous ” ,the rush to celebrate her Indian ancestry is on , let’s hope she was sheltered during her visits to South India and India as a whole so as not see the rampant contempt for non white POI (People of Indian Origin ) thus not seeing through the sham of this belated self-serving acceptance. I hope her visits to temples in California in her younger years didn’t follow the patterns i have witnessed in my various temple visits.

  25. “If anything, the Biden-Harris ticket is likely to tilt closer to Pakistan and the Islamic world. India must work from now onwards to ensure that this does not happen.”
    Biden-Harris lean towards India, but leaning to the other side should be prevented? How about expecting America to act independently based on its own self interests?
    Anyway, expecting to be under some “superpower’s” umbrella is rather pathetic.

    • Remind me how many times America let other countries to act independently and solely based on their own self interests? My memory or knowledge might not be as good as your but could you name few?

      No one is talking about living under someones umbrealla however its more about how to utilize relationships since there are no friends but only interests in the world of diplomacy.

  26. People hailing Kamala Harris as Indian, earlier claimed Sonia Gandhi is Italian. But when were the Bhakts accused of cognitive coherence.

    • Brilliant comment Mr Deb !

      Now the very same bhakth who questioned Sona Gandhi’s loyalty, citizenship and so on will bend backwards to extol Kama Harris’ Indian heritage !

  27. Kamala Harris had better chance in India than in USA. Here, she wouldn’t have had to push back her identify as an Indian. In US of A, after two & half centuries, of democracy a person from minority community is getting top job. We are far from perfect, but Please criticize but don’t mimic India. We had been colonized during the same period.

  28. ” had she remained in India, she may not have made it to the Indian vice-presidency. No woman has. ” is an unjustified and uncalled for!!!
    For all we know, she may have been a good candidate for PM post!!!
    Not that I support or go against her candidacy as VP in the US, either.

  29. Don’t be so sure of a Biden-Harris win. Americans are no longer satisfied with token identity politics. Putting up a Black-Indian-Married to Jew-Woman does not automatically get the votes of all those constituencies. And the polls are not really reflecting the mood either. Look at this survey by Cato.

    https://www.cato.org/publications/survey-reports/poll-62-americans-say-they-have-political-views-theyre-afraid-share

    62% of americans are afraid to tell their political views to others, particularly conservatives. They are scared they will lose their jobs even if they say things like “Make America Great Again” or “All lives matter”. The reason is a rabid progressive lynch mob is on the prowl hunting for thoughtcrime in real life as well as social media. Take a guess as to who these silent voters will vote for. In 2016, right till the day of election, opinion polls were confident of Clinton victory. What happened next day?

    Don’t write off “Teflon Don” yet.

  30. “No woman has. We must doff our hats to say, ‘It happens only in America!’”. India has already had a female President and Prime Minister, something that can never happen in the United States. So guess India could also do with a doffing of turbans maybe.

  31. MEA should treat Ms Kamala Harris as an American. 100%. Not even hyphenated as Asian American, mush less Indian American. Nor should we use the diaspora as a political / diplomatic tool. Next, the more adventurous will be offering to help her win more Indian American votes, something done in a very in your face manner with Donald Trump. A sharp rebuke was delivered to India by Britain’s Foreign Office before the last general election, for working against Labour candidates. 2. All leading Democratic candidates have spoken on Kashmir and CAA. That is the issue to work on.

  32. No, Kamala harris is black because she says she is black, and goes around as a proud black woman. She also went to a university run by black people, and git a degree there. She has also embraced her Indian roots from her mother’s side. She is married to a Jew, and her younger sister, Maya Harris, is married to a black man. Hinduphobia has nothing to do with this.

    • You didn’t get the point. Hinduphobia not from Kamala but from the americal voters. Since its a real thing, Tulsi was not accepted by many because she is a Hindu. Religion plays a very important role in US

  33. you will have islamphobia. but if the americans have hinduphobia it hurts you. you can illtreat and humiliate dalits here. but if savarna hindus are humiliated and subjected to racism your blood boils. typical savarna hypocrisy and double standards.

    • Well said Mr Chandrasekaran !

      Under the BJP, Islamophobia and hatred of Christians is cultivated and even encouraged by the saffronist thugs in power. And now you have Kamala Harris who has Jewish, Hindu, Indian and Jamaican roots and presents quite a conundrum to the Sanghis and Modi bhakths. It remains to be seen how the BJP will go ahead with bills such as CAA, the demonisation of Muslims and Christians, the Kashmir issue and so on. In any case, one can be sure that she will not be called “termite” !

      • What rubbish are you spouting ?
        No one hates muslims or Christians in India, all live together in harmony, but for the politicians inciting the riots to disturb peace and the leftist media.

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