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Indian Americans Flex Muscle at Democratic Convention

India-West, News Feature, Lisa Tsering Posted: Aug 28, 2008

DENVER, Colo. The growing clout of Indian Americans in the American political arena is reflected in the record number of Indian American delegates and other participants at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, said speakers at a reception hosted by the Indian American Leadership Initiative at the Denver Athletic Club Aug. 25.

The rise of the Indian American is one of the best-kept secrets in American political life, said event chair Anurag Varma.

Whats interesting to me, observed Preeta Bansal, a member of Sen. Barack Obamas presidential election steering committee, is that [the Obama campaign] looks to our community to open our minds and heart, and not just open our wallets.

Barack Obama is someone rooted in his identity but not confined by it, Bansal continued. We, too, are rooted in our origins as Indian Americans, but are not confined by them.

The cocktail hour reception was held on the opening day of the Democratic convention, which has drawn over 35,000 attendees to the mile-high city and 15,000 members of the press, including a contingent of media from India and Pakistan and the South Asian diaspora. Dozens of Indian American business people, delegates and elected officials mingled over drinks at the reception.

Among the prominent Indian Americans there were many of the 37 Democratic delegates of Indian descent, along with Bansal, a former New York Solicitor General now working on the Obama campaign; Kamala Harris, district attorney for San Francisco; Rep. Raj Goyle of Kansas, the first South Asian elected official in that heartland state; Rep. Jay Goyal of New Jersey; Michigan state Senator Hansen Clarke; Rep. Anu Natarajan of Fremont, Calif.; New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri; and the District of Columbias chief technology officer, Vivek Kundra.

Both Raj [Goyle] and I were elected to districts that were overwhelmingly Caucasian, and overwhelming Republican, said Jay Goyal of New Jersey.

The support of IALI has given us all a leg up Indian Americans are on the rise. You see us gaining strength, and gaining institutional capacity.

Toby Chaudhuri, a Democratic strategist, said that he was preparing to release a new opinion poll of Indian Americans on their political attitudes, while Natarajan, whose constituency in Northern California is one of Californias largest Indian American populations, said, Instead of being ATMs for other candidates, we have to have our own candidates.

Rajen Anand, a Democratic delegate on his sixth trip to a Democratic National Convention, said, I attended my first convention in 1988. At that time, you could count the number of Indian American delegates on your fingers.

Among the changes Anand has noticed is the growth of interest among younger South Asians. Young people are getting passionately involved, he said.

In addition to the Indian American delegates, an additional 30 Indian Americans are committee members or alternate delegates, and more than twice that number are special guests and invitees.
Attendees were enthusiastic about Obamas choice of Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential nominee, given Bidens long record of support to India.

Biden has shown that he is close to the Indian American community, event chair Varma told India-West, citing a 2006 Senate discussion of the United States-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative. A lot of senators took the opportunity then to attack India, said Varma. But Joe Biden fought back, and he held his ground for eight hours.

Biden, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was the key proponent of the influential U.S.-India nuclear deal, which is a point of pride for many Indian Americans.

A new IALI almanac, which features in-depth profiles of nearly 100 of the top Indian Americans in contemporary political life, was released with a statement from Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that read, Indian Americans play a vital role in the life of our nation and the health of our democracy The rise of Indian American Democrats did not happen by accident. Perhaps these pages include a future Democratic president of the United States.

The IALI reception was described by organizers as the only Indian American event during the convention.

But several other gatherings over the four-day convention attracted notable numbers of Indian Americans such as an Aug. 26 grassroots strategy meeting of APA for Progress, a leading progressive organization for Asian Pacific Americans; an official party caucus held by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus on the morning of Aug. 25; and a reception on the evening of Aug. 25 organized by APIA Vote, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that encourages and promotes civic participation of Asian Pacific Islander Americans.

Indian Americans have engaged in grassroots campaigning, fundraising and policy formulation, but in case all of that doesnt work out, theres always the strategy relied upon by Kamala Harriss grandmother, all the way back in Tamil Nadu.

My grandmother tells me on the phone from Chennai, You tell them Im going to the temple to pray for Barack!

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