The dilemma that Indian American lawmakers face
Many Indian Americans face the loyalty challenge often, especially those involved in the highly partisan world of politics and government affairsUpdated: Nov 15, 2019 18:55 IST
Pramila Jayapal, an Indian American Democratic lawmaker, is planning to introduce a resolution in the House of Representatives. And Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-descent lawmaker, is also working on one, but may defer to Jayapal’s if it works for her as well.
Jayapal’s unrelenting focus on Kashmir sheds light once again on the cloying embrace Indian Americans are held in by India and Indians.
At the House hearing on Kashmir — it was all about Kashmir, let’s face it, despite the pretence of discussing human rights in the region — last month as Democrats grilled witnesses on restrictions in Kashmir, political detentions and human rights violations, some Indian-origin Americans privately wondered — grumbled, actually — if Representative Ilhan Omar had been more aggressive and hostile or Jayapal.
Tied to that question was an expectation that as an Indian American, Jayapal should have gone easy on India. She didn’t, of course. And has remained at it, with plans to follow up with a resolution, which she spoke about at the hearing. It is not clear yet if it will be only about Kashmir or also Assam.
Ro Khanna, another Indian American lawmaker, has been battling a similar expectation war, for joining the Pakistan Caucus in the US Congress. For some Indians, this was akin to cheering for the Pakistani team in a high-stakes cricket match against India. Khanna’s supposed intransigence is still being debated and decried on social media months after. He needs to be “shamed”, some say. There is talk also of cancelling fund-raising events in the Indian American community to punish him. And efforts are said to be under way to engineer his defeat in the next elections in concert with Japanese Americans, who have been preparing for any opportunity to avenge the defeat of Mike Honda, a veteran Japanese American Democratic lawmaker who mentored a new crop of Asian Americans in politics. Khanna’s office did not responded to a request for comments on the issue.
Many Indian Americans face the loyalty challenge often, especially those involved in the highly partisan world of politics and government affairs. And that’s why, they believe, Jayapal and Khanna’s situations are symptomatic of a larger problem that effects them personally, hampering their ability to perform their duties as American officials.
Many career government officials of Indian descent say they have felt pressured to attest to their impartiality when dealing with Pakistan for the same reason. In some instances, Pakistan has actually objected to working with US foreign service officials of Indian descent.
They needn’t have. As an Indian American, who has lived here for more than four decades and worked with multiple Indian governments, said, these lawmakers “are Indian only by the colour of their skin, otherwise they are standard American legislators”.