The most distinct Indian feature of the designated Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in the United States is her unmistakable and evocative Indian name, Kamala Devi (Lotus Goddess), shortened as Kamala and added to her father’s name.
The name will resonate in India and the Indian community in the US. Some Indian Americans are likely to be attracted to the name and wish to see the 'Lotus' blooming in America.
Kamala Harris characterises herself as a Black American politician, though she has a strong emotional attachment to her mother’s family in Chennai.
She is symbolic of the typical industrious mixed race families and connects with voters across races and religions.
Harris was born to former economics professor Donald Harris, a Jamaican and Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher who migrated from India to the US for her PhD.
Harris’s parents met at the University of California, Berkeley, and married in 1963.
Through the years, Harris has spoken openly and liberally about her connection to India, including visits to her grandparents’ home in Chennai, and living with a mother who had great “spirit and tenacity.”
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, had some other women on his list of potential candidates, but he said that Harris came out on top because he needed “someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person. I need someone who understands the pain that so many people in our nation are suffering. Whether they’ve lost their job, their business, a loved one to this virus.”
He expects to get votes on account of her age, gender, origin, reputation as a fearless fighter for freedom and democracy and an able debater and legal administrator.
Biden has hinted that his role will be transitional to undo the damage inflicted on the country by the Trump Administration. That may mean that Harris may have special responsibilities as the Vice President and she may eventually break the glass ceiling to be a “female Obama.”
Whatever be Harris’s preference for her identity, many Indians in the US will rally around her as she is the first person with Indian blood in her veins to get close to the White House.
If she becomes the Vice President, she will be only a heartbeat away from the Presidency. This is not a situation, which can be ignored by the 80 per cent of the Indians who voted for Hillary Clinton.
It is true that the community got divided in the last four years because of the perception that Trump might be better for India and the Hindus, even though his migration policy was hurtful. Harris may bring back the unity among the Indians in favour of the Democrats.
Anticipating this, it is being pointed out that Harris was unfriendly to India on occasions. During her aborted campaign for the Democratic candidature for President, Harris had said that the US was watching the situation in Kashmir after the scrapping of the erstwhile state’s special status and that she would strive to lead while upholding the values the US is known for, including speaking out against “human rights abuses”.
She even regretted that at a critical time in Kashmir, there was no US Ambassador in Islamabad.
Asked about the possible role the US could play following last year’s lockdown in Kashmir and the human rights situation there, she replied: “It is about reminding people that they are not alone, that we are all watching.”
After external affairs minister S Jaishankar declined to attend a meeting last year with the House Foreign Affairs Committee because of the presence of Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had moved a resolution in the House of Representatives on the situation in Kashmir, Harris extended strong support to the lawmaker who, like her, has roots in Tamil Nadu. Harris tweeted: “It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill. I stand with @RepJayapal, and I’m glad her colleagues in the House did too.”
It is not unusual for candidates to speak what the voters want to hear during campaigns without regard to the foreign policy implications of what they say.
George Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump were not particularly friendly to India even though they had quite a few supporters from the Indian community.
But when they came to power and recognised the role of India in global affairs, its potential value as an ally against China, its vast market and potential for investment, they readjusted their perspectives on India.
Harris will not be different in this respect. The Biden camp has already made it known that the Presidential candidate was in favour of the India-US nuclear deal and the growth of India-US relations during the Obama regime.
He was also supportive of Indian migration. Plans are already afoot for a Biden team to begin working on the Indian diaspora to wean it away from the Republican camp.
An uncle of Kamala Harris, an expert on international affairs, has predicted that she will be champion of freedom and human rights, but will be sympathetic to India if she is elected to any office.
Kamala Harris has certainly added a new dimension to the Democratic ticket, but it is by no means certain that she will clinch the Presidency for Biden and then position herself for 2024.
The likely prospect of the popular vote going for one party and the electoral votes for another is daunting.
The campaign will be ugly and no one knows what forces will be at play in November.
In the surveys, Biden is several points ahead of Trump, but as the campaign proceeds, there will be many unexpected developments which may tilt the balance to either side.
Kamala Harris has already made history and she has a fair chance to be the woman of destiny in the US in the years to come.