How Are Jewish Americans Helping The Indian Diaspora In Raising Their Clout In The US Government?

American Jewish groups have been very active in cultivating strong political links between the Jewish and Indian leaderships in the US, according to an Israeli think tank.

In a remarkable transformation from being the “problem-minority” to “model-minority”, Indian-Americans will create history when the Joe Biden administration will commence its innings officially on January 20. As many as 17 of them will be senior members of the White House Staff.

Besides, three more Indian-Americans are joining his Administration elsewhere (Dr. Vivek Murthy as the US Surgeon General, Vanita Gupta as Associate Attorney General Department of Justice, and Uzra Zeya as under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. And then there is Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, though she prefers to display more her “Black” identity rather than the Indian-one because of her Tamil Indian mother.

Is this transformation due to the usually underplayed factor of the growing ties between India and Israel and the resultant impact on the Indian diaspora in the United States to emulate their Jewish counterparts? So thinks the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), an independent professional policy planning think tank of Israel.

In the last two decades, American Jewish groups have been very active in cultivating strong political links between the Jewish and Indian leaderships in the US, and among the Indian, American, and Israeli leaderships.

The think tank argues that “As Indian Americans recognized the success of American Jewish organizations in the political and other arenas, they began to look to these organizations as models and partners, and Jewish organizations were happy to respond.

American Jewish lobbies have actively supported and contributed to the formation and success of Indian lobbies and have often served as organizational and developmental models.

“The Congressional India Caucus, now the largest caucus in Congress, the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), the first and leading Indian lobbying group in the United States, and the Hindu American Foundation were all founded with the close support and encouragement of AJC (American Jewish Committee) and/or AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).

USINPAC continues to rely on many of the same methods and tactics used by AIPAC when lobbying Congress – including, for instance, letter-writing campaigns and donations to targeted Congressional candidates”.

According to John Newhouse, who specializes in foreign lobbies in the United States, Indian-Americans are as effective as American-Jews in lobbying for their mother country. “India’s US-based lobby is the only lobby in Washington that is likely to acquire the strength of the Israel lobby.

It both relies on a strong network of law and public relations firms and is supported by a large ethnic population group in the United States, many of whose members are well educated and financially successful.

“For example, 20 percent of all the companies in Silicon Valley are owned by Indian Americans. The U.S.-India Business Council, which has a core committee of 200 companies that make up part of the United States’ corporate elite, is closely allied with the Indian lobby.

And like Jewish Americans, Indian Americans are strongly inclined toward political activism”, writes Newhouse in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs.

One important feature of the growing clout of the Indian-Americans is because of their proximity with people who matter in Washington. Many of their children work with Senators and Congresspersons in Capitol Hill as interns and Staff Members.

Professor Devesh Kapur of Johns Hopkins University says, “Capitol Hill is crammed with staff and interns of Indian-American heritage. They also appear to be over-represented in academia, the media, and other influential posts.”

Pramila Jayapal, a congresswoman from Washington State, has also been quoted to have acknowledged the prevalence of skilled Indian-Americans who work as assistants to Senators and Representatives in Washington.

Approximately, there are 3.2 million Indians in the United States, representing about one percent of the country’s total population. They are among the best-educated and highest-earning minority groups in the United States. Seventy percent of them hold a college degree, compared with about half of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Filipino Americans. They even exceed the graduation-rate of 60 percent of the Jews.

The educational attainment of the Indian-Americans is reflected in family income and occupational status. The median Indian household income is $88,000, which is significantly higher than that of all other Asian minorities and the general US public (about $50,000).

Compared to their size of only 1 percent of the total US population, they are over-represented in several highly skilled professions: 3 percent of the country’s engineers, 7 percent of its IT workers, and 8 percent of its doctors.

Their success as IT entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley is striking. In the last two decades, the proportion of Silicon Valley’s immigrant-founded start-ups launched by Indian entrepreneurs rose from 25 percent in 1995-2005 to 32 percent in 2006-2012, largely overtaking Chinese entrepreneurs (who decreased from 12.8 percent to 5.4 percent in the same period).

And importantly, whereas the proportion in Silicon Valley of immigrant-founded start-ups has decreased overall from 52.4 percent to 43.9 percent since 2007, the rate of Indian-founded companies has increased slightly, from 13.4 percent to 14 percent.

Like the American Jews, Indian-Americans are now active participants in American politics as donors, voters, or candidates. Their high levels of education, English-language proficiency, and roots in India, a country with its own long democratic tradition, all help their ever-increasing political participation.

Strange it may seem, but it is true that Indians were allowed entry into the United States only in the late 1800s when America’s “Exclusion Act” halted most immigration from China. The country needed cheap laborers and turned to India, particularly the Punjabi countryside.

That was how the Punjabis were the first to enter the country, mostly as illiterate and laborers. But they and their children were denied naturalized citizenship until 1946. Then onwards, slow immigration of Gujarati businessmen began.

But it was in the mid-1960s, due to the intense Cold War between the US and the then Soviet Union, that there was an ideological competition and America wanted to show to the world the importance of democracy and openness. In 1965, Congress made sweeping changes to US immigration law, which, among others, encouraged the emigration of professional skills.

The Indians grabbed this opportunity. According to historian Vijay Prasad, many of India’s best and brightest left for the US. From 1966 to 1977, about 20,000 scientists were reported to have immigrated from India to the US, along with 40,000 engineers and 25,000 physicians. Needless to say that they all knew how to speak English and were from well-educated upper-caste communities.

Now, nearly 4 million strong (if we include the NRIs and Green-Card holders), the Indian-Americans have further consolidated their position and power in the United States. One of them is now the Vice President.

It is no longer a fantasy to see an Indian-American becoming the President of the US one day. Who knows that that time is not very distant, with the Vice President-elect succeeding her Boss in 2025?

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Prakash Nanda
Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on Indian politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (Seoul) and FMSH (Paris). He has also been the Chairman of the Governing Body of leading colleges of the Delhi University. Educated at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he has undergone professional courses at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and Seoul National University (Seoul). Apart from writing many monographs and chapters for various books, he has authored books: Prime Minister Modi: Challenges Ahead; Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy; Rising India: Friends and Foes; Nuclearization of Divided Nations: Pakistan, Koreas and India; Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. He has written over 3000 articles and columns in India’s national media and several international dailies and magazines. CONTACT: