New Delhi: Kamala Harris, who was Tuesday selected as Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s running mate for the upcoming US presidential polls, is the first person of Indian — and Asian — origin to enter the vice-presidential race. She had entered the campaign season as a presidential hopeful but dropped out in December 2019 on account of funding constraints.
Harris is the daughter of a Chennai-born mother, Shyamala Gopalan, who arrived in the US in 1960 to pursue cancer research and a Jamaican-origin father, Donald Harris, who retired as an economics professor from the premier Stanford University. Her parents divorced when she was seven, and Harris and her sister Maya were raised by their mother, who brought them to India every other year to visit their grandparents.
As a public figure, Harris has batted for strong ties between India and the US, but was also critical of the situation that emerged in Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370 last year. As she weighed in on the situation in Kashmir after the Modi government’s Article 370 move, Harris said in October 2019, “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”
She was responding to a question about “human rights abuses” in Kashmir, and the restrictions imposed — including curfews and a communication blackout — following the revocation of Article 370.
She also stood by her fellow Indian-origin Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar refused to attend a meeting in the US over her participation. Jayapal had earlier moved a resolution on the Kashmir issue in the House of Representatives.
“It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Harris had said in a tweet. While many Congress members decried the Kashmir situation, her comments gained further limelight because of her Indian roots.
Meanwhile, Biden, her partner in the election, has been critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Harris has described the India-US relationship as “unbreakable”. In 2017, she tweeted a welcome message for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he visited the US, “I welcome Indian PM @NarendraModi to the United States and reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our two nations.”
I welcome Indian PM @NarendraModi to the United States and reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our two nations.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) June 24, 2017
Other key elements of her politics include a vocal distaste for US President Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim stance.
A love for idli-sambhar
“I am proud to be who I am, I am proud of the influences that my family have had on my life, that my community had on my life, and similarly the influence of my mentors and colleagues and friends,” she had said in an interview to the CNN when asked about how other Indian-American politicians like Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley appeared to be distancing themselves from their Indian lineage.
“When we think about it, India is the oldest democracy in the world — so that is part of my background, and without question has had a great deal of influence on what I do today and who I am,” she added in the same interview.
Harris’ maternal grandfather P.V. Gopalan was a freedom fighter who later became a high-ranking civil servant known to fight against corruption.
In her memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, Harris said her grandparents had a profound impact on her.