Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has picked Senator Tim Kaine, a strong supporter of India-US ties, as her running mate, her campaign announced on Friday.
Kaine, 58, is a first-time senator from Virginia, a swing state that can potentially vote Democratic or Republican and will thus play a critical role in determing the outcome of the presidential election.
The line-up for the 2016 presidential race is now complete — Clinton and Kaine on the Democratic ticket facing Republican Donald Trump and his VP pick Mike Pence.
Clinton announced her pick in a tweet late on Friday evening: “I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others. -H”
The letter “H” meant Clinton signed off on this tweet personally.
Though called boring compared to some of the others on Clinton’s shortlist, Kaine is a popular senator of a crucial state, and, as was pointed out by the nominee, he has never lost an election.
He is a deeply religious Roman Catholic and is personally against abortion and capital punishment but did not allow that to influence his actions and decisions as an elected official.
He is a lawyer by training — he went to Harvard, as did President Barack Obama — and was elected mayor of Richmond, deputy governor and governor of Virginia and to the senate.
Described as a centrist, Kaine has had public disagreements with Obama on foreign policy issues and makes some in the party uncomfortable with his support for trade deals.
Kaine visited India in October 2014 — Delhi and Mumbai — as chairman of the senate’s foreign relations sub-committee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.
Just weeks before in June, Kaine joined three other senators — Democrat Mark Warner, Republicans John Cornyn and Jim Risch — to move a resolution highlighting India-US ties.
The resolution,which passed, also called for inviting newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just a few days in office then, to address the US Congress at the earliest.
“This resolution sends a strong signal about the importance of the US-India Strategic Partnership and the bipartisan support the relationship enjoys on Capitol Hill,” Kaine said in a statement.
Modi finally addressed the US Congress on his fourth visit here as prime minister in June 2016, but the 2014 call by the bipartisan group of senators was significant given the context.
Modi had been denied a visa to visit the US in 2005 — as chief minister of Gujarat then — under a law passed by the Congress sanctioning world leaders for alleged religious persecution.
But Kaine has also been critical of India’s handling of religious freedom, telling a state department official at a senate hearing it was “really important one (as an issue) for us to stay up on”.
Check out this exchange between him and Nisha Biswal, senior-most state department official dealing with India at a recent hearing at the senate.
Kaine: The Indian government denied visas to American researchers in March, who were going as part of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. These were researchers who worked to prepare the annual report about religious freedom around the world. That's the most unusual action, isn't it?
Biswal: We certainly would have encouraged them to allow these researchers to travel because we believe it would foster greater understanding, support and dialogue between US CIRF and Indian authorities, and would enable them to have a more comprehensive report and understanding.
Kaine: I was not exactly clear about your testimony; I just was distracted for a second. In the past, have similar researchers been denied visas in India, or have they been allowed in?
Biswal: It is my recollection that we have never been able to gain entry or visas for them to travel to India in successive Indian administrations. That has been a longstanding policy of the Indian government that we have not been able to change.
Kaine: What has been the general policy with respect to other nations' willingness to grant visas to researchers from the US commission?
Biswal: I suspect that it is a mixed and uneven record, but I can't tell you definitively what it is across the board.
Kaine: The 2015 report of the commission was pretty hard on India and in fact on India's -- I think in their conclusion -- sort of declining religious tolerance or, maybe, as you said, the reversed increased instances of sectarian tension and disturbances, as I recall.
Biswal: I believe that is correct.
Kaine: From my constituents, I have a very vibrant Indian-American community in Virginia, as you know, including a pretty active Sikh community. The Sikh community, in particular, has expressed a lot of concerns about Indian governmental response, for example, to desecration of Sikh religious texts and sites in certain parts of the country and what they view as an inadequate government response to that. Has your office been following those concerns as well?
Biswal: We have been and we have also engaged with the Sikh community here in the United States.
Kaine: I met with the Indian ambassador to the United States in recent months to talk about this and shared my very significant concern about it, and I think the message was delivered.
I think the explanation was, during election seasons, sometimes such things can happen and after the election season, tensions abate a little bit, but I wasn't completely satisfied with that answer, and I consider myself a strong supporter of this bilateral relationship.
I also understand that over these issues of religious tolerance in India, there have been, recently, a number of artists and others who have been refusing cultural prizes to try to make a kind of public statement of concern about the state of religious tolerance and liberty in India. Am I correct in that?
Biswal: There has been a fairly vigorous and vociferous debate within India with respect to issues of religious freedoms and religious tolerance.
Kaine: This is an issue that, I think, is a really important one for us to stay up on and we are going to have the opportunity, which I really look forward to, to have the prime minister in Washington soon, but it is India's status as secular democracy, as you described, that is a really important one, but you got to have that status if people don't feel like they are going to be hurt or punished for how they choose to worship.
Biswal: If I may comment, Senator, my own perspective on this issue is tat there is no more robust voice than the voice of the Indian people that is taking up these issues with increasing vigor and public debate.
It is on the headlines of Indian newspapers that you are seeing a very active engagement on this issue. I think these are issues and these are values that we hold very dear that we bring into the conversation, but we try to do it in as constructive a way as possible to not take away from the fact that these are issues that Indians must grapple with and get right for their own country, for their own democracy, for their own society; and that we, in the United States, have experiences to share, lessons to share, best practices to share, but we seek to do that in a way that respects and honours the fact that this democracy has a very vibrant and very vocal civil society and media and political party system that is also trying to get this right.
Kaine: That has certainly been my experience as I visited. A heartening aspect of India today is that (there is) a vibrant civil society that is not shy at all about raising these issues.
(Transcript courtesy printed version in India Abroad)