Can an Indian origin American make it to the US top job?

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Can an Indian origin American make it to the US top job?

Wednesday, 17 May 2023 | Kalyani Shankar

Just a few years back no one would have imagined that Indian Americans could bid for the Oval Office but now Indian diaspora is a force to reckon with

Could the United States also favour an Indian American for the top job in the 2024 polls? It is a million-dollar question. But it does not stop the American Indians from dreaming about it. The United Kingdom has chosen an Indian-origin Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, last year.

As for the Indian Americans, it is a long road to becoming the tenant of the White House. Over the years, they have become affluent and also ambitious. Their success is a unique coming-of-age story.

Today Indian American diaspora is 4 million plus, of which at least 2 million are voters. It is the second-largest immigrant group in the United States. Affluent Indian Americans also donate money to the two major parties. The number of Indian Americans appointed to high-profile positions has multiplied in recent years. The most significant example was Kamala Harris.

No one would have imagined that Indian Americans would bid for the Oval Office a few years ago. Then Louisiana Governor Piyush Bobby Jindal in 2016 and Kamala Harris in 2020 joined the presidential race only to be disappointed. Their number is gradually growing in the U.S. Congress and the state Assembly. The 2024 Presidential polls will be interesting for Indian Americans. Vice President Kamala Harris has been announced as the running mate of President Biden, who is seeking election. 

 At least two Indian-origin Americans intend to run for president in 2024. They are former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Hailey and millionaire entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. His parents are the first generation immigrant from Kerala who immigrated to the U.S. Ramaswamy focuses on "getting rid of 'affirmative action" and allowing more highly skilled immigrants into the U.S. While they all represent "America first," they knew that road to the White House was long. The primary contenders would be President Biden and his predecessor Trump. The latter will be the same age as Biden. He was 78 when he became the president in 2020. Will either of them have a chance to win in 2024?

Harris, the first woman Vice President was at a knocking distance from the Oval Office. She had sought the Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 election before dropping out in the campaign's initial stages. Kamala accepted to run as Biden's running mate in 2020 when everyone thought Biden wouldn't seek a second term. She also became the U.S.'s first 'woman acting president' for 55 minutes on November 19, 2021, when Biden underwent a colonoscopy. A sitting President has never been defeated historically. Kamala Harris, who is only 58, is Biden's running mate again.

The two-time former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, daughter of Indian-origin immigrants, made history as South Carolina's first female governor. At 39, Nikki was the youngest governor in the U.S. in January 2011. Nikki was also the state's first Indian-American governor. She is projecting herself as a changemaker who can reinvigorate a party. Her biggest challenge comes from her former boss, Trump. He advised her to follow her heart when she informed Donald Trump about her intention to contest.

Nikki and Kamala have the advantage of name recognition, but Vivek is less well-known. The 37-year-old studied at Harvard and Yale earned millions as a biotechnology entrepreneur and founded an asset management firm. It would be difficult for Vivek, with no political experience, to join the race for the White House. But former President Trump said some encouraging words: "I am pleased to see that Vivek Ramaswamy is doing so well in the most recent Republican Primary Poll, CBS YouGov." The Indian-origin candidates face many hurdles to cross, even to get their respective party's nomination in the primary in which the Whites dominate. In the Republican Party, after Trump (52 per cent) and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (24 per cent), Nikki has only 18 per cent support. It indicates she has a long way to go before being considered a serious candidate. The second would be to catch the imagination of the Americans. They know that their ethnic background alone cannot win them an election.

Thirdly, it is a question mark whether they would vote for a woman and that too of ethnic origin. Even Hillary Clinton, a white American, was rejected earlier as she could not mobilize the women voters in her favour. Apart from these, others like Asa Hutchinson, Robert Kennedy Jr, Marianne Williamson, Tim Scott, Larry Elder, Ron DeSantis, and Mike Pence are likely presidential candidates. DeSantis is yet to announce his candidacy. He is considered Trump's top challenger for the 2024 nomination. Biden  is surging and leads both Trump and DeSantis in the polls. He has the momentum and financial muscle to embark on another successful presidential campaign. But it is too early to predict.

(The author is a senior journalist)

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