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Indian American Activism: New Election Dynamics

Nikki Haley
Bobby Jindal

One of the big winners in the 2010 U.S. elections, say political analyst, was the Indian-American community. Nikki Haley of South Carolina became the second Indian American elected as a state governor, three years after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana became the first. And Kamala Harris, whose mother moved to the United States from India as a student, has won the race for California’s first woman attorney general. New figures released by the Secretary of State's Office show Harris with a 74,453-vote lead.

A half-dozen Indian Americans also stood for Congress, not to mention those who ran for state legislatures and local councils. The candidates represented both major parties and—win or lose—were accepted as part of the mainstream of U.S. politics.

Bobby Jindal
Nikki Haley

These elections show that an average, mainstream Americans are convinced that you can depend on an Indian-American candidate with good credentials. Indian Americans are finding that their background appeals to voters. People like to hear rags-to-riches-type stories, how Indian American came to the US with virtually nothing and built up a successful life and how they did that because there’s something uniquely American about the US culture that allows people to come from all over the world, from different religions, ethnic backgrounds, and make a success for themselves.

Just as other Americans are accepting Indian Americans as candidates, Indian Americans are becoming comfortable with joining public life and running for office. It’s a result of a maturing of the Indian-American community in the U.S. When Indians migrated, they were mostly professors, teachers, doctors, and engineers. The next generation feels safe and secure. They don’t see themselves as an insecure immigrant but as secure Americans venturing politics.

Ethnic politics have long been a part of American public life. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Irish, Italian, Polish and other immigrant communities provided the core of support for politicians who emerged from them and fought for their interests. Although the Indian-American community has been growing quickly, to about 3 million, analysts say it is too small and scattered to push candidates into office.

Nikki Haley
Kamala Harris

It is well known that the Indian American grassroots activism brought rich dividends to the 2006-midterm elections, which has now made a difference in 2010. As per Exit polling data of 2006, four out of every five (80%) Indian American voters supported democratic candidates in the top-ballot Senate races--MD, NJ, PA, VA, CA, FL, WA including the gubernatorial races of IL, MA and the Attorney General’s race in New York. Indian Americans proved to be swing voters where victory margins were less than 5000 votes. At the County, State and Senate levels, Indian Americans ran successful campaigns electing democrats to office.

In the 2010 mid term election, Indian American voter's mood was unpredictable. Once a loyal democratic voting block, Indian Americans found themselves ignored and standing alone on the cross roads as Republicans strategically courted them. The community is known for having a 95% voter turnout among its registered voters and has been noted for delivering decisive results on critical races involving highly debated issues.

According to recent U.S. census numbers, the Asian Indian population is nearly 3 million, equal to 0.9 percent of the total population. By 2050, the group could become 6 percent to 8 percent of the population, depending on immigration flow based on governmental policies.

Who's Running?
In 2010, a record number of Indian Americans ran for either Congress or a statewide office--eight candidates for various offices. What has caused this sudden wave of office seekers among this group? One theory: second generation Asian Indian immigrants, unlike the generation before, feel less pressured about establishing themselves in the United States and more free to invest in the costs and commitments that running for office requires.  Here are some quick facts about ten other Asian Indian politicians who ran for office:

Manan Trivedi: Democrat from Pennsylvania ran for Congress. Trivedi is a physician, Naval officer and Iraq war veteran.

Raj Goyle: Democrat from Kansas ran for Congress. In 2006, Goyle was the first Asian Indian to be elected to the Kansas Ligisture and the first Democrat to hold his statehouse district.

Ami Bera: Democrat from California ran for Congress. Bera is a physician.

Ravi Sangisetty:Democrat from Louisiana ran for Congress. Sangisetty is a business attorney.

Reshma Saujani:Democrat from New York ran for Congress. Saujani is an attorney and daughter of political refugees who sought amnesty in the United States after escaping Idi Amin's regime in Uganda.

Surya Yalamanchili, is a notable politician and Ohio Democrat. Yalamanchili, 28, is a former Diversity Inc. employee and candidate on “The Apprentice." Yalamanchili recently won the primary.

Kumar Barve, has won his re-election in Maryland. Currently, he is the majority leader in House of Delegates.

Aruna Miller and Sam Arora have won the election for Maryland House of Delegate.

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