If it was “Namaste Trump’’ mega-event hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad this February in honour of the visiting U.S. President Donald Trump, but this time after the result of the US presidential election it is Kamala Harris, the Vice-President-elect, and her Indian roots that are hogging the limelight in India.
Congratulatory messages to the Biden-Harris team have been pouring right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the opposition Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
The media attention in India has now been riveted on the Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman and Indian-American to have been elected to the high post. It turned out to be an early Diwali, the festival of lights, at her ancestral village in Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Till recently, the villagers in Thulasendrapuram did not know about the daughter of their soil until some people organized special prayers to mark Kamala’s victory at the Sri Dharma Sastha temple. Nearly 500 people were offered food in the village and idli and sambar was served, which happens to be the preferred food of Kamala Harris.
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last…when my mother came here from India at the age of 19, maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible,’’ said 56-year-old Kamala Harris in post-election remarks.
It is not just Kamala Harris, the President-elect Joe Biden to has made known his Indian link. During his maiden visit to Mumbai in 2013, Biden had declared that he may have relatives in India. Then serving as Vice President, he had referred to a Mumbai resident who had shared his surname and had written to him way back in 1972, claiming they had a common lineage in the form of an ancestor who had worked for the erstwhile East India Company.
At that time, Joe Biden had been freshly elected to the U.S. Senate and was just 29. He had received a congratulatory letter in 1972 and the sender, Leslie Duncan Biden, had called himself as “Biden from Mumbai’’ and told him that they were related through Joe Biden admittedly never followed it up. Leslie Biden had reportedly passed away in 1983 and his four grandchildren are based in Nagpur in Central India’s Maharashtra state is perhaps the only Bidens left in India but prefer to stay away from the media glare.
In 2015 also, Biden, then Vice-President, had made his claim at an event in Washington, saying there are five Bidens living in Mumbai. However, there has not been any word so far emanating from anyone from Mumbai claiming to be Biden’s relative.
With the focus being on Kamala Harris and her Indian roots, her maternal uncle G. Balachandran, a familiar figure in strategic, policy and technology affairs circles and is based in New Delhi, said that his niece will be vocal on issues that are important to her.
Pointing out that the election result has sent out a message of hope to the world, Balachandran said that Shyamala, his sister and mother of Kamala, had participated in the civil rights movement in the US in the 60s. “The result is inspiring a lot of people all over the world because it indicates that the US will return to the global mainstream, which is a good thing,’’ he told media outlets.
The Biden-Harris campaign had sought restoration of civil and political rights in Kashmir and Kamala Harris had expressed her watchful views on the Kashmir issue. Balachandran’s daughter is already working with Kamala Harris as part of her campaign team and the family will be in Washington DC when she takes the oath of office. “I attended the swearing-in ceremony when she became a Senator and I will be there this time also,’’ he quipped.
In Chennai, the aunt of Kamala voiced her optimism, saying the vice-president-elect is made for great things. Dr Sarla Gopalan is the younger sister of Shyamala Gopalan and is based in Chennai. She recalled Kamala’s visit with her sister Maya soon after their mother passed away in 2009. “It was my sister’s wish that her ashes be immersed in Chennai, and they made a trip for that,’’ Gopalan said overjoyed at the fact that her niece has scripted history.
She told the media that Kamala has largely been inspired by her mother. “My sister always had it in her, that she should go on to achieve big things and this is what I feel Kamala too has taken after. If we are a family of strong women, the credit goes to my father. In the 1950s, when my sister Shyamala secured a scholarship to study in the U.S., he immediately encouraged her and asked her to go. Other families would have been hesitant in those times to send an 18-year-old girl alone to study abroad,’’ Dr Gopalan told Chennai-based daily The Hindu.
Dr Gopalan headed the Department of Gynaecology at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education in Chandigarh and worked with the Voluntary Health Services hospital in Chennai.
Yet another discovery pertaining to Kamala Harris has just been made as Bollywood actor Mallika Sherawat had in 2009 tweeted about having “fun at a fancy event’’ with Kamala Harris, who was then-District Attorney of San Francisco.
Mallika Sherawat had a remarkable foresight when she referred to Kamala at that time as the woman who “could be US President’’ one day. Her tweet has now been rediscovered by users and is hitting the viral button. “having fun at a fancy event with a woman who they say could be US President, Kamala Harris. Chicks rule!’’ she had written in her June 23, 2009 tweet.
The Mumbai-based actor had shared a picture with Kamala Harris on Facebook in 2010 giving credit to her for being as there inspiration for her role in “Politics of Love,’’ mainly which Mallika Sherawat had played the role of an Indian-American, Democratic campaign worker who fell for a Republican.