Elections are around the corner with the fall campaigns about to begin soon. This election has always been in spotlight for various factors like COVID, mail in ballot issues, controversies around Trump and the latest being democratic party’s VP candidate selection. The official announcement of Biden’s running mate was much delayed and there were many speculations including his decision-making skills and not keeping up with his deadlines. A few justified his slow approach in choosing the correct candidate, because if elected he would be the oldest candidate for president, and VP pick needs to be a powerful candidate who could take over the 2024 elections if needed.
On Aug 11, 2020, Kamala Harris was announced as Biden’s running mate. There were mixed reactions on her selection, majority felt that it was a good choice because of her immigrant background which would help the party’s vote bank, while a few where skeptical on the party’s choice given Harris’s political history.
First things first
Let us first acknowledge some of her accomplishments in being the ‘first’. Harris mentioned that her mom always said to her “You can be the first but make sure you are not the last”; this kind of became her tagline. She was the first woman, first African American and first south Asian American to hold the office of ‘Attorney General’ in California state’s history. She was also the first African American senator in the state’s history. With all these ‘firsts’ in her resume she was definitely a potential pick for presidential race; she did participate in the race but had to drop out because of her decreasing primary poll numbers.
Mixed reports on her accomplishments
Other than being the ‘first’ in many, she had other accomplishments too; though most of them had mixed feedback from her peers, she is still being noted/targeted for the same.
Anti-truancy program: This program had started way back in 2008 when Kamala Harris was SFO’s district attorney. The program was introduced to make the parents accountable for their truant children. While this helped in increasing the number of children getting back to school; the program later backfired when parents were not able to pay $2000 in fine. Parents felt the program was a little too harsh on them and questions were raised whether prosecution was really necessary in truancy .
Capital punishment: Harris’s one of the important action item when she took up the attorney general position was to stop capital punishments. But her muddled ‘dual role on death penalty’ was the talking point among her primary running mates – Tulsi Gabbard (democratic presidential nominee) questioned Harris on her stand on ‘death penalty’ when she held the office of attorney general. Tulsi Gabbard also accused her of holding off important evidence that would have freed an innocent from capital punishment. Harris was being accused of taking double standards when it came to the punishment. When there was a chance for her to completely abolish death penalty, she did not take a stand and this created a stir among her peers.
Law professor Hadar Aviram said “I was disappointed and surprising that they put their energy and zeal into essentially fighting for the death penalty, fighting for keeping the death penalty and staying away from a chess move that could have moved us further along toward abolition”; this was when a petition circulated to not to appeal Kevin Cooper’s case. She has anyways promised that she will work towards abolishing death penalty once she comes to power.
Police brutality: Harris was quoted as a ‘tough cop’ for her stern action on the criminals but she was also highly criticized for not raising her voice against police brutality towards 2 black men.
Political star in the making
In the later years (around 2012) Harris was quietly rising as a political star. She was even rumored about courting the elites, which played a significant role in her political career. Raising her standards, she had major accomplishments during her tenure as attorney general and then a member of US senate. The backing of the then President Barack Obama also fetched her a credibility badge in her political career.
Open Justice: This was her signature accomplishment; she insisted that the criminal justice data should be made available to public thereby creating a transparency in justice system. She was also an early advocate for ‘body cameras’ on cops for more transparency and thereby increasing people’s belief in judicial system.
Mortgage settlement: In 2012, when housing crisis was on the rise, she brokered a mortgage settlement of $20 billion citing improper foreclosure practices with the nation’s 5 largest mortgage companies when the original settlement was only around $4 billion.
Marriage equality: She was once again an early advocate in marriage equality taking a stand for the LGBT community and supported same sex marriage.
Sex trafficking: She was instrumental in reestablishing law enforcements approach to look at the girls as a victim rather than as a criminal selling sex.
Knowing all these about her, let us see how she handled her immigrant background.
What does she mean to Indian Americans
Since Asian-American voter base is growing in US, democratic VP pick was widely praised. Many Indians felt proud when an Indian descent candidate was picked. A few celebrities were over the moon when Harris uttered the word “chithi (a Tamil word for aunt)” in her acceptance speech. But should there be chest thumping for all these? Something that pondered over my head was ; should we choose a politician to power based on their descent, religion etc. or by knowing their political stance?
Many prominent Indian personalities felt, Kamala Harris never proclaimed about her Indian descent. In-fact she has quoted “My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters,” Harris later wrote in her autobiography, “and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.” People felt Harris being mentioned as Indian, American, Asian, Jamaican, African American could be deceptive, and all these references could be used only for vote bank and nothing beyond.
She had promised that she will remove the cap on country-based GC by increasing the processing percentage per year. Though Indians welcome this policy of hers, they are a little skeptical on ‘how’ she would achieve this because it was left unexplained. Given her past records on any reforms, a portion of the Indians are doubtful if she would stand by her word. Moreover, her presidential campaign was majorly about fixing the illegal immigrant issues and less was discussed about the legal immigrant concerns.
Her stand on Kashmir:
When the special status on Kashmir (granted under article 370) was revoked, Kamala Harris was vocal about the issue and said “We’ve to remind the Kashmiris that they’re not alone in the world. We are watching”. This move of hers was viewed as siding with Pakistan; She also stood in support of her colleague Pramila Jayapal by criticizing the Indian external affairs minister Jaishankar’s act of cancelling a meeting with the US lawmakers just because Jayapal was sponsoring it. It is to be noted that Jayapal was critical about revoking article 370.
Kamala Harris tweeted about the issue as “It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill”.
The Biden-Harris duo never shared a special bond with India. In-fact, when Modi had visited Texas for the ‘Howdy Modi’ event, Harris never attended the same. She is very critical about Modi’s right-wing policies. She has criticized that India is becoming religiously intolerant.
Having looked at her stance on Indians and Indian policies, we will have to wait and watch what Harris does for the Indian community if she is elected to power.