As votes in Arizona state primaries were still being counted, a sense of self-satisfaction was setting in among Indian Americans. If Anita Malik clinched the Democratic ticket for AZ 6, the tiny minority community would for the first time have as many 12 candidates from both parties running for the Congress.
Malik was leading in the count till late Wednesday as the US completed the primaries for the mid-term elections in November, when all of the House of Representatives and a third of the senate go to polls; as do many state houses, governorships and mayorships around the country.
Around 100 Indian Americans started out the 2018 election cycle running for US House and Senate to city councils. Of them more than half will make it past the primaries to Election Day, according to Indian American Impact Fund, a political action committee that helps members of the community run for office.
If Malik wins, as she is likely to, 12 Indian Americans will be running for the House of Representatives this fall, including four incumbents seeking re-election and one for the senate. Two others are in race for state-wide posts and 25 for state legislatures and 15 for local bodies.
“This is definitely a surge,” said Gautam Raghavan, a former Obama White House staffer who is executive director of the Indian American Impact Fund.
At about 4 million, Indian Americans comprise barely more one percent of US population. But they are also the country’s wealthiest ethnic group — with the highest median household income — and have begun to seek political representation and power commensurate with their economic clout.
“When a community gets organized and starts to not just write cheques but engage politically, first thing it needs is a wake-up call,” said Shekar Narasimhan, a Democratic strategist who runs a group that promotes Asians running for office, a political coalition that took shape under then President Barack Obama.
The wake-up call, he added, came the morning of November 9, 2016 with the election of Donald Trump – “the most virulently anti-immigration candidate in a century”.
Sri Preston Kulkarni, a state department diplomat who has said he quit because he was unable to continue under President Trump, writes on his campaign webpage he is running because, “The greatest danger to our country right now is not a foreign power, but the internal divisions in our society.”
Kulkarni left the foreign service to run for Congress, but as a Democrat in a deep red state Texas, his primary fight was not as competitive. And he is up against a popular Republican incumbent Pete Olson, a four term congressman who is also a leading champion of closer US ties with India.
Harry Arora, an investment firm founder, clinched the Republican nomination in Connecticut, a deeply Democratic state. He is in a similarly difficult fight against a sitting congressmen, James Andrew Himes, a four term Democrat who is seeking re-election from a deep blue constituency.
And then there is Shiva Ayyadurai, a Republican who is hoping to unseat Elizabeth Warren in the senate from Massachusetts. He has pitched his fight as one between a “real” Indian against someone who has claimed to have native American Indian ancestry — a controversial part of Warren’s family history that even President Trump has attacked seeing her as a potential rival in his re-election bid in 2020.
It was not immediately clear how many of these Indian Americans in the 2018 race stood a chance — apart from the four incumbents — but their presence in the race send a message that politics was the new goal for Indians Americans, and elective public offices their new ambition.>