Former vice president decries “systemic racism” resulting from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies
By Geeta Goindi
August 17, 2020 – Greeting Indian-Americans and people of Indian origin all across the globe on the occasion of India’s 74th independence day, former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden lauded members of the community here who he called “pillars” of the United States.
As president, he pledged “to rely on the Indian-American diaspora which keeps our two nations together as I have throughout my career – my constituents in Delaware, my staff in the senate, the Obama-Biden administration which had more Indian-Americans than any other administration in the history of this country, this campaign with Indian-Americans at senior levels which of course includes the top of the peak”, he said about his running mate Kamala Harris.
If he is elected president, Harris “will be the first Indian-American vice president in the history of the United States of America”, Biden gushed in a prerecorded message designed to court the highly educated and affluent Indian-American community ahead of the November election.
“We all know she’s smart, she’s tested, she’s prepared”, he said, adding “another thing that makes Kamala so inspiring is her mother’s immigrant story to America that started in India with the pure courage that brought her daughters to this moment”. Shyamala Gopalan, raised in a Tamil Brahmin family, became a leading cancer researcher and activist, a role model for her daughters, Kamala Devi and Maya Lakshmi.
“I know the pride you feel. It’s your story, too”, Biden told Indian-Americans in the virtual event lauding them for their sacrifices and courage which he said have made them “pillars of our community, our country”.
He paid tribute to the Indian-American physicians and other health care workers treating patients with COVID-19 hailing them as “patriots on the frontlines of this pandemic”.
Biden bemoaned that members of the community have to reckon with “systemic racism” arising from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.
“America is a place where people of all races and religions can live together in peace. But, I know it’s hard. My heart goes out to all of you who have been the targets of a rise in hate crimes, crackdown of legal immigration including the sudden and harmful actions on H-1B visas that for decades have made America stronger and brought our nations closer”, he said in the video message. “While at times it may not feel like the America of your dreams, we will overcome and go back better than ever”, he vowed.
The virtual event was sponsored by Indian American Impact Fund, AAPI Victory Fund and South Asians for Biden, and co-sponsored by a number of Indian-American and South Asian organizations.
Wishing the community and Indians around the world a “happy Indian Independence Day” Biden spoke of the “special bond” between India and the US which he has “seen deepen over many years” throughout his tenures as senator and vice president. Recalling that fifteen years ago when he was leading the efforts to approve the historic civil nuclear deal with India, he said at the time, “If the US and India become closer friends and partners then the world will be a safer place”.
“If I’m elected president I’ll continue to believe it and continue what I’ve long called for: standing with India and confronting the threats it faces in its own region and along its borders”, he pledged in the online event.
Among other issues, Biden spoke of expanding two-way trade which opens markets and grows the middle class in both countries, taking on global challenges like climate change and health security, and strengthening both democracies with diversity which, he said, “is our mutual strength”. In what sounded like a veiled warning, he added, “We’ll have an honest conversation on all issues as close friends do”.
In conjunction with the video, his campaign released a detailed policy document, ‘Joe Biden’s Agenda for the Indian American Community’, which offered insights into the priority the former vice president attaches to India-US ties.
In a prerecorded video, Harris said, “To the people of India and to Indian-Americans all across the United States, I want to wish you a happy Indian Independence Day. On August 15, 1947, men and women all over India rejoiced in the declaration of the independence of the country. Today, on August 15, 2020, I stand before you as the first candidate for vice president of the United States of South Asian descent.
On a personal note, Harris recounted her many visits to her grandparents (grandmother Rajam Gopalan and grandfather P.V. Gopalan) home in Madras (now called Chennai), the stories she heard about India’s independence movement on long walks with her grandfather, and her mother’s efforts to instill in her “a love of good idli”. Shyamala Gopalan “wanted us (Kamala Devi and Maya Lakshmi) to understand where she had come from and where we had ancestry”, she said.
Addresses by the key speakers were followed by webinars featuring: Anthony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Vinay Reddy, Rohini Kosoglu, Farooq Mitha and Seema Sadananda – senior advisors of the Biden campaign; Richard Verma, former US ambassador to India; Nisha Desai Biswal, former assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs; Sonal Shah, economic policy advisor for Biden Unity Task Force; Jasjit Singh, former senior policy advisor; Shekar Narasimhan, chairman and founder of AAPI Victory Fund; and Ajay Bhutoria, Indian community activist.
Responding to a question by Verma on Chinese aggression targeting India, Blinken who has served as Deputy Secretary of State (2015-2017) admitted, “We have a common challenge which is to deal with an increasingly assertive China across the board including its aggression toward India at the Line of Actual Control, but also using its economic might to coerce others and reap unfair advantage, ignoring international rules to advance its own interests, asserting unfounded maritime and territorial claims that threaten freedom of navigation in some of the most important seas in the world”, and trampling democracy in Hong Kong.
Blinken made it clear, “In a Biden administration, we would be an advocate for India to play a leading role in international institutions and that includes helping India get a seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council”.
Noting that “Biden has long been a champion of stronger ties with India”, Blinken recalled that in 2006 he said, “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States”.
The campaign’s senior advisor asserted, “There is probably no global challenge we can solve without India. We have to be able to do this together”.
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