With less than two years remaining before the 2020 American presidential elections, 17 Democratic candidates have already lined up for the party nomination. Among them are two women with India connections: Senator Kamala Harris from California and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii.
The 54-year-old Senator from California is currently seen as one of the frontrunners to clinch the Democratic nomination. Harris’s mother Shyamala Gopalan moved from India to the United States to pursue a career in cancer research. In the States, she met Donald Harris, an academic of Jamaican origin, and Kamala Harris grew up in a highly intellectual environment at home.
Harris was District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004-11, after which she went on to became the Attorney-General of California. While Harris describes herself as a tough prosecutor, she has been criticised for playing a role in the era of mass incarceration in the US, which disproportionately targeted minorities.
In 2017, Harris became the first person of Indian origin to be elected to the US Senate. In her political avatar, the Senator has pursued a progressive stance on gender and racial equality, and has strongly endorsed the DACA programme in the face of an anti-immigrant position taken by the Trump administration. She has also advocated tax cuts for the middle class and the poor.
Gabbard, aged 37, is not of Indian origin, and was born in a family of American Samoan ancestry, which is native to the US state of Hawaii. Her father was a Catholic and her mother a convert to Hinduism. Gabbard herself became a Hindu when she was a teenager.
Gabbard’s father has been a member of the Hawaii legislature from the Democratic Party, and Gabbard herself became its youngest elected member in 2002. In 2012, Gabbard was elected to the US House of Representatives, becoming the first Hindu member in its history. It was only after this victory that Gabbard visited India for the first time.
In the US Congress, Gabbard has lashed out at interventionist American foreign policy, especially in Yemen. She has also put her weight behind Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and was criticized for meeting him in 2017 even after it was reported that the dictator had used chemical weapons against civilians.
Gabbard has attended events organised by the BJP’s overseas arm. She openly displays her Hindu identity, and took her oath to office on a copy of the Bhagwat Gita. She has strongly defended her proximity to Hindu groups.
Gabbard is co-chair of the influential Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. During the 2016 Democratic primaries, she broke ranks with the Democratic establishment and endorsed left-wing candidate Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton.
Along with her father, Gabbard was a longstanding opponent of gay rights. The Congresswoman apologised for her stance only recently when she announced her presidential bid. Gabbard is a military veteran.