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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Explained Ideas: Why a majoritarian democracy like India could not have produced a Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris’s political rise in the US has to be with the space today for Muslim politicians in India, and the lack of all kinds of diversity in non-political arenas as well, writes Nirupama Subramanian.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 1, 2020 9:55:16 am
kamala harris, kamala harris nomination, kamala harris india, us elections 2020Kamala Harris talks to the media in Houston. (AP Photo: Eric Gay)

The nomination of Kamala Harris for vice-president on the Democratic ticket in the US presidential elections has sent India into raptures. The predominant sentiment is of pride in “our girl”. What will certainly not be discussed at all, or as much, are the home truths about India that Senator Harris’s nomination and her extraordinary journey serve to highlight, writes Nirupama Subramanian of The Indian Express.

“For one, a majoritarian democracy like the one India has become in the 21st century could not have produced a Kamala Harris,” she writes.

Kamala Harris’s rise to the top levels of the American polity was possible because of a system that recognises and accepts diversity, writes Subramanian. (Express Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

As a woman, and a member of a racial and ethnic minority in the US, Harris’s rise to the top levels of the American polity, like President Barack Obama’s, was possible because of a system that recognises and accepts diversity.

True, the recent protests in the United States have demonstrated that America’s oldest fault line is not just alive, it has grown wider and deeper in many respects. But the country’s democratic instincts run deep too.

“What has also been evident over the last few months is an acute awareness about the dangers of white supremacism, and the institutional, political, media and civil society pushback to prevent its rise, and President Donald Trump’s own attempts to fan it,” she states.

Black political representation is not rare. Data on the Pew Research Centre site shows that despite uneven progress, Black political leadership in the US has risen over the last 50 years, and is today at par with the share of blacks in the population.

“This is the ecosystem in which Harris grew as a politician. Notwithstanding her Tamil Brahmin ancestry, the comparison to Harris’s political rise in the US has to be with the space today for Muslim politicians in India, and the lack of all kinds of diversity in non-political arenas as well,” writes Subramanian.

In India, Muslims, who are the largest religious minority and form about 15 per cent of the population, are comparable in size to the black community in the US. But their political representation has been sliding over the decades, since the highest tally of 49 in 1980.

Also read | Explained Ideas: Why Congress should listen to its senior leaders

In her speech accepting her nomination on August 19, Harris spoke about the “the promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all”. Harris spoke of a country where we look out for one another, where we rise and fall as one, where we face our challenges, and celebrate our triumphs — together. “Today… that country feels distant,” said Harris.

Subramanian concludes Harris “might as well have been referring to India, where a nomination of a person like her would have been swiftly denounced as minority ‘appeasement’ and her party accused of ‘minorityism’”.

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