Inspired by the Gandhian principles of ‘be the change that you wish to see in the world’, young Indian-American entrepreneur Suneel Gupta is seeking to enter US Congress to fight against the special interest of the corporate sector, which he believes has peaked a new height under the Trump Administration.
“Our family has always been very principled in the ideals that if you don’t like what you see, you have to do what (Mahatma) Gandhi said, be the change, you cannot sit on the sidelines,” 38-year-old Gupta told PTI in a recent interview, as he explained the reasons for jumping into electoral politics, which is new to his illustrious Indian-American family from Michigan.
His mother Damayanti Gupta was the first female engineer with a degree at Ford Motor Company and his elder brother Sanjay Gupta is a popular CNN health reporter.
Gupta, who till recently was a successful entrepreneur, is running for the US House of Representative from the 11th Congressional District of Michigan. Given the current political climate, pundits have described this as a “toss-up” seat. It is currently being held by Republican David Trott, who is not seeking his re-election, thus making it an open seat.
Ahead of the August 7 primaries, pitted against four other Democratic candidates, Gupta has developed one of the best ground games in the 11th Congressional district, with a team of several hundred volunteers who have been knocking on the doors of each household.
As per latest figure from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), he has raised more than USD 1.3 million, which is more than any of his competitors.
Gupta says he decided to run for the election last November to fight against the growing corporate sector influence under the Trump Administration. “Whether you’re talking to Democrats, independents or Republicans, you hear the same thing, which is that we feel like we’re working longer, harder and more productive hours than ever before and having less to show for it,” he said.
The zeal to fight for the common people against the special interests, he says, come from his mother.
“She was on the other side of the border when partition happened. They fled, and she ended up in a refugee camp as a little girl. My grandparents, her parents, spent every penny they possibly could to get her an education that in 1967 she became Ford Motor Company’s first female engineer,” Gupta said.
“The thing, Sanjay and I always learned from my mom from a very early age is that, we grew up in an area that was predominantly white. There were very few Indians and if we ever, ever told mom that felt different, we felt like we didn’t belong here. She was very quick to correct it. Just because we’re different, it doesn’t mean that we don’t belong,” he said.
The campaign, he said, is doing very, very well. “We have put together one of the best ground game operation that the district has ever seen. We have over 250 volunteers now that have knocked on nearly 20,000 doors and we have outraged every candidate in this race without taking a dime of corporate money. So we feel very confident about the primary. And we feel confident about the general,” he said.
Responding to a question on the response he is receiving from Indian Americans, Gupta said the community has rallied together to make sure that their voices are heard.
The Indian-American community in the district is not only providing him with their financial support, but also their time and their sweat go out there, knock on doors and make phone calls and talked to voters. “Because they believe that it’s time to send an Indian American to Congress from Michigan,” he said Both his mother and elder brother have also joined his campaign.
“On August 7, 1967, I began my job as Ford Motor Company’s first female engineer. I remember it so well. Within minutes of starting someone dropped a stack of notes on my desk and said ‘type these up.’ You should have seen the look of confusion on his face when I told him ‘I’m not your secretary. I’m an engineer, just like you’,” Damyanti Gupta says.
“I was different…my son, Suneel, is different too. He isn’t your typical candidate. After watching my husband and me lose our auto jobs and worry about our health, Suneel decided to spend his career creating good-paying jobs, and partnering with people like Michelle Obama to ve people access to quality health care. He’s not a politician, he’s a problem solver,” Damyanti says strongly campaigning for her son.
“On August 7, 2018 — exactly 51 years after I started at Ford — you’ll have a chance to vote for something different. Someone who will fight — the way he always has — for working families, and for opportunity for all,” she told people of the Congressional District on Friday.
In 2012, Suneel’s brother – Dr. Sanjay Gupta – helped him start Rise, a healthcare company that uses technology to shrink the cost of quality health care. After the startup served over 1,000 patients, First Lady Michelle Obama asked Rise to be her team’s official technology partner.
Through this public-private partnership, together they delivered health coaching to lower-income areas of the country. In 2016, Michael Bloomberg convened a bi-partisan commission on the Future of Work, and Suneel was asked to join and bring Rise’s lessons to policymakers.
Suneel holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and a law degree from Northwestern Law School. He has been married for eight years to Leena Rao, a journalist.