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Maju Varghese, son of Malayali nurse & cab driver now picked as White House military aide

Varghese, 43, is the first Indian-origin person to hold the post of director, White House Military Office, and is among at least 55 Indian-Americans in the Biden administration. 

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New Delhi: The son of immigrant parents from Thiruvalla in Kerala, 43-year-old Maju Varghese was appointed the deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Military Office (WHMO) last week. 

Varghese has previously served in positions of close proximity to President Biden such as chief operating officer and advisor to his presidential campaign and as the main organiser of the presidential inaugural committee.

The WHMO director, a key aide to the president, provides military support for White House functions and coordinates all military support for presidential operations, including those aboard Air Force One. Varghese is the first Indian-origin individual to hold the position.  

Reacting to his latest elevation, Varghese tweeted on 10 March, “The son of immigrants from Kerala, India, Varghese was born in New York City and raised in Elmont, New York.” Indeed and proud of it. It’s official. Honored”.

In his new post, Varghese will also oversee policy related to Department of Defense assets. The Department of Defense is headed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who is set to visit India this month.

Varghese is one of at least 55 Indian-Americans in key positions in the Biden administration. 

“This is a reflection of Biden’s personnel policy of diversity and inclusion,” former Indian Ambassador to the US, Arun Singh, told ThePrint. “The large presence of Indian-Americans in the administration also reflects how the immigrant group itself is growing more and more active and influential in policy and politics.”

Earlier this month, Indian-American Neera Tanden withdrew her nomination as Director of White House Office of Management and Budget following a controversy over her “mean tweets”. Biden’s Justice Department pick Vanita Gupta is also currently facing a rocky confirmation process. 

Also read: Illegal Indian immigrants in US ‘significant economic contributors’, says report 

Son of Malayali immigrants, devout Christians

Born in New York, Varghese is the son of Saroja and Mathew, a Malayali couple who immigrated to the US from Kerala in the 1970s. Saroja, a nurse who was trained at Kugler Nursing School in Andhra Pradesh, came to the US first followed by her husband and their elder daughter Manju. The family were also devout Christians and regularly attended church.

Saroja worked as a nurse at Columbia University Presbyterian Hospital and Long Island Jewish Hospital when she first came to the US. Mathew, meanwhile, worked as a cab driver and a security guard in New York during the family’s early years of immigration. 

In an interview with The Week magazine last November, Varghese recalled, “I was travelling out of Washington not long ago, and I saw an Indian cab driver. When we stopped at a red light, he was eating dinner out of a Tupperware container, and it reminded me of my father.” 

Speaking to New York City-journalist Lavina Melwani earlier this month, Varghese revealed that his father died from Parkinson’s disease. 

While leading the Biden election campaign, Varghese had tweeted, “Forty-eight years ago today, my mom stepped foot in this country for the first time. With hope and hard work, a young nurse from a small town in south India changed the fortunes of generations to follow (sic)”.

From 1995 to 1999, Varghese studied political science and economics at the University of Massachusetts. He later obtained a degree in judicial law from Hofstra University in New York. 

He met his wife, Julie, when they were both working for former US presidential candidate Al Gore’s election campaign in 2000. Julie currently serves as the Chief Administrative Officer at American think-tank, Atlantic Council, and the couple has a 14-year-old son, Evan.

Six years under Obama administration 

Varghese worked in the Obama administration for about six years. He served in multiple White House staff positions such as special assistant to the president and assistant to the president for management and administration.

His responsibilities ranged from day-to-day operations of the White House, including oversight of White House budget, personnel, facilities, tours and major events, to coordinating high-level visits like Obama’s trip for Republic Day celebrations in India in 2015, D-Day celebrations in France in 2014 and the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014.

“President Obama is an incredible person who has a way of connecting with everyday people, which is a remarkable thing. We saw how warmly he was embraced in India,” Varghese once said.

With the incoming Trump administration in 2017, Maju left the White House to work as a senior adviser at the Dentons law firm and then later joined The Hub Project, a non-profit organisation based in Washington.

Also read: Reviving CAA-NRC issue could force Biden to criticise Modi govt: British journalist Edward Luce


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