The selection of Kamala Harris as the Democratic running mate of US presidential candidate Joe Biden has evoked mixed reaction both in the Indian diaspora in the US and among Indians in India. It was Kamala’s mother who at 19, went to the US from Chennai to study at the University of California, Berkeley, going on to receive a doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology. Kamala’s father was a Jamaican who later left her and her mother. The now vice-presidential hopeful grew up in Canada and the US and visited her mother’s ancestral home every now and then and was drawn to her mother’s roots, especially to her maternal grandfather who contributed much to shaping her personality. But Kamala’s father having been a Black American, she is deemed to be of Black American descent with an Indian American half-parentage adding to her connection with India. Whether this will prove to be a magnet for both ethnic Indians and Blacks is a moot point at a time when the country is on the threshold of a presidential election scheduled for early-November. Be that as it may, Kamala’s past is haunting her insofar as she is identified with having opposed the abrogating of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which removed the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir around the time of Independence. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, passed by the Indian Parliament has also touched a raw nerve in her because she regards it as anti-minorities.
Kamala has not spoken on the contentious issue of Kashmir since she joined the electoral campaign but no amount of efforts to convince her Indian voters that she is in tune with them would be convincing until she sees the Kashmir issue in proper perspective---that Pakistan altered the whole perspective when hordes of Pakistani raiders descended to fight a war with local Kashmiris and then designated Indian forces in 1948 after Kashmir’s Hindu king acceded to India. It is foolhardy to blame India after the hostilities came to an end in the wake of a ceasefire. The special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir could not be continued indefinitely. The BJP had made no bones to affirm that it was for abrogating Article 370, both through the election manifesto and otherwise. It saw it as a consequence of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s faulty policy of appeasing the Muslims. That the abrogation has not led to any public upsurge is indicative of how the people in J& K have accepted it. Kamala also needs to look at foreign relations from the strategic standpoint, wherein Pakistan stands with China while India and the US have strategic commonality of interests.
It is heartening, however, that Kamala Harris identifies with the need for the US to deal with China firmly. The Democrats in general need to realise that any softening of stand against China would be frowned upon by the US electorate in general. Joe Biden has built up a sizable lead over Trump but that lead could well be whittled down if the impression spreads that the Biden dispensation would be soft towards China. The battle is essentially about perception and at least on China, the Trump administration has shown rare spine and gumption. The US-China divide is sharp and out in the open. The potential confrontation could escalate into war and the Trump administration has done well to stand up to Beijing. The China-Pak axis can prove very damaging for the world at large. Both are nuclear powers and have blood-chilling agendas.
Kamala Harris faces a daunting challenge in healing the wounds of the racial divide between the whites and the blacks, exacerbated in recent times. That would be a challenge of no mean proportions. If the Biden-Harris team is able to provide a healing tough to the relationship, it would be no mean achievement. There are also the genuine fears of Indians on the immigrant policies of Trump. Kamala Harris gladdened Indian hearts when she wrote against revoking the ‘right of spouses of H-1B visa holders to seek employment’. Likewise, shehas called for the elimination of country quotas for getting green cards. These are issues of vital concern and immigrant Indians are looking expectantly at the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris team. Yet, there are some imponderables and the proof of the pudding would lie in its eating.