Opinion| Jayapal is an opportunity for India, not a challenge
Jayapal has been a strong ally of India, Indians and Indian Americans, and demonstrably. She never fails to invoke her heritage, and proudly calls herself the first Indian-American woman ever elected to US congressUpdated: Jan 03, 2020 19:18 IST
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s criticism of the restrictions in Kashmir has angered many Indians who had perhaps expected her to give India a pass as the country of her birth. But she decided not to, and has vowed to show the same lack of sentimentality in dealing with America, the adoptive country she has described as the “land that I serve”.
The Indian government conveyed its disappointment to her, when external affairs minister S Jaishankar called off a meeting with Congressional leaders that she was also supposed to attend. But now, as everyone tries to move on, it might be a good time for India to win her back to their corner.
Jayapal has been a strong ally of India, Indians and Indian Americans, and demonstrably. She never fails to invoke her heritage, and proudly calls herself the first Indian-American woman ever elected to US congress. In 2017, she introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives conveying the body’s “deepest sympathy and condolences” to the family of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the Indian engineer who was killed in Kansas in a hate crime. In 2018, she organised the signing of a letter by 130 lawmakers urging the Trump administration not to kill a programme granting work authorisation to spouses of people waiting for their green card, overwhelmingly Indians. “Heartbreaking”, she wrote on Twitter shortly after the Pulwama terrorist attack.
But Jayapal has a life outside this India bubble. She is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a Left-wing faction of the Democratic Party, which includes the rising-star Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and the three other members of a group of firebrands called “the Squad”, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Jayapal has been called the mentor of these younger lawmakers who are clearly the future of the Democratic party.
Jayapal cannot be wished away and as she has demonstrated, she can only grow if labelled a problem. A legislative measure introduced by her in the House of Representatives, calling upon India to expeditiously remove restrictions in Kashmir, has picked up 29 co-sponsors, and among them are Democratic party heavyweights Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee who led the inquiry that led to the impeachment of President Donald Trump, and Maxine Waters, chair of the powerful House financial services committee. Jayapal has found support from Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The fate of Jayapal’s resolution, which is non-binding and does not enjoin any follow-up action from Congress or the administration, remains unclear. Even if it passes, it will be less damaging than another resolution, which was introduced by Congresswoman Tlaib. They both seek the urgent removal of the restrictions, but only Jayapal’s proposal acknowledges the compulsion behind them. It cites, echoing the Indian government’s reasons for the curbs, “the dire security challenges faced by the Government and India in Jammu and Kashmir and the continuing threat of state-supported cross-border terrorism”. India needs to look beyond Jayapal’s words. She is an opportunity, not a challenge.