Indian American election victories: The remarkable political progress of a community

“In the early 80s, there were two city council members from the Indian American community in small towns – a remarkable achievement then. From those days we have traveled a long way to win many positions in several states, including the vice presidency of the US,” said Dr. Thomas Abraham, founder-president and currently Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), at a celebratory event online honoring the newly elected members to various state legislatures

Nov 23, 2020
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“In the early 80s, there were two city council members from the Indian American community in small towns – a remarkable achievement then. From those days we have traveled a long way to win many positions in several states, including the vice presidency of the US,” said Dr. Thomas Abraham, founder-president and currently Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), at a celebratory event online honoring the newly elected members to various state legislatures. 

The event, held on Zoom, was hosted by GOPIO chapters (Manhattan, New York, Central New York, Connecticut, Central Jersey and Virginia) in collaboration with the Indian American Impact Fund (IMPACT). The program was streamed live all over the world.

Two Indian American Republicans and 13 Democrats elected from 11 state legislatures recounted their experiences. Former Kansas State Representative Raj Goyle, a co-founder of IMPACT, was the moderator of this history-making event. 

Rep. Goyle said he feels he was elected "10,000 years ago in 2006" when he was 31. It is an emotional thing to be to get elected, he said, pointing out that there were about 10 Indian families in the district at that time. Goyle said the community worked for the level of success reached this year. “We expected it,” he said, adding that the IMPACT fundraised $10 million for the campaigns.

Deepak Raj, the other IMPACT co-founder, said he met Goyle in 2008 and discussed ways to get more Indians elected. Soon IMPACT was born. He pointed out that the Democratic Party has understood the influence of the Indian American community.

Goyle also noted that Raj, an entrepreneur wrote the first check for the organization and continued to support the organization over the years.

“As a broad-based community organization, we at GOPIO want to provide a bipartisan platform to bring all statewide Indian American elected lawmakers, and we are hoping that this will motivate more Indian Americans to join the political leadership process – especially young Indian Americans,” Abraham said.

Dr. Nikil Saval, Democrat, a writer and community organizer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, described his fight in the Senate District 1 to dislodge a three-term incumbent. He was the first Indian American elected to the Pennsylvania legislature. Saval said he raised money from 5,000 people, and that about 500 volunteers worked to meet with the voters. He promised to ensure basic amenities for all his constituents.

Connecticut Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan, Democrat, elected from the 2nd District noted his Guyanese and Irish Catholic origins. This is his second term and he has plans to run for Congress in the future.

Harry Arora, Republican, elected to Connecticut House 151st District for a second term, expressed his joy to meet with people with a similar background as his own.

Niraj Antani, 29, a Republican who in 2014 became the youngest member of the Ohio State House, has been elected this year as Ohio’s first Indian American state senator from District 6. He described the journey his parents took from India and his own achievements.

Attorney and professor Jay Chaudhuri, a Democrat who in 2016 became the first Indian American to become a state senator in North Carolina, spoke about his work and the voters’ confidence in him that saw him re-elected to a third term.

Immigration attorney Nima Kulkarni, Democrat, who was elected to Kentucky House from the 40th District, said there are only a handful of Indians in the constituency. She defeated a 22-year incumbent.

Padma Kuppa, Democrat, who was re-elected from the Michigan House’s 41st District, described her excitement when she was first elected. An engineer by profession, and one who takes pride in her Hindu heritage, Kuppa had never contested in any election before running for the state legislature. There is a three-term limit for House members and so she can contest for another term after this one. She said she was also happy to have two more Indians in the legislature now: 

Ranjeev Puri, a Democrat elected from District 21 and Dr. Shri Thanedar, 65, Democrat, elected from 3rd District.

Thanedar said he ran for Michigan governor in 2018 winning 18 percent votes. This time he ran from Detroit, where 90 percent of the voters are African American. Thanedar is an entrepreneur and scientist, with a Ph.D. in chemistry, who once employed 500 people. He plans to work to uplift the African American community and help its members become entrepreneurs and thus create a new Black Wall Street in Detroit.

Ranjeev Puri noted his Sikh heritage and his plans to work to improve the life of his constituents.

Jenifer Rajkumar, 38, Democrat, an attorney and professor, noted a few records she created. She is the first South Asian woman and Hindu elected to the New York State House. She defeated an 11-year incumbent. She said the role of government has become more important in crises like the pandemic.

Latha Mangipudi, a Democrat elected to New Hampshire House’s 35th District for a fifth term, noted the help GOPIO and IMPACT gave her in her campaign. She said she shares her Indian culture in her talks, and that mainstream people appreciate it. She also coined the term "Idli Caucus" to describe South Indian representatives while Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthy has called the Indian American Congress delegation the "Samosa Caucus". 

Mangipudi has promised to cook Mysore masala dosas in her constituency.

Kesha Ram, Democrat, the first woman of color elected to Vermont State House and later Senate, noted her Hindu/Jewish ancestry. She became a House Representative in 2008 when she was only 21 years old. She thanked Latha Mangipudi for the help and support.

Dr. Amish Shah, a Democrat re-elected to Arizona State House, joined the meeting in scrubs since he was working at the hospital. His district includes parts of Phoenix. He spoke about his work for the community and also how the state is changing from red to blue.

Dr. Tushar Patel, GOPIO Health Council Chair said that GOPIO chapters would be enablers in promoting community involvement, especially the youngsters, in the political process. He also noted the work Dr Abraham has been doing for the community for many decades.

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