Ajay Banga

Obama taps Indian Americans to fix things in US and abroad

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi presenting a reproduction of telegram sent by USA to the Indian Constituent Assembly in 1946 to the US President, Mr. Barack Obama, in New Delhi on January 25, 2015.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi presenting a reproduction of telegram sent by USA to the Indian Constituent Assembly in 1946 to the US President, Mr. Barack Obama, in New Delhi on January 25, 2015.

President Barack Obama, with the largest number of Indian Americans in his administration, keeps dipping into the expanding talent pool of the three million-strong Indian American community, to take care of issues ranging from combating terrorist propaganda abroad to nation’s health at home.

Last week, after an international conference on terrorism, Obama named Rashad Hussain, a Muslim of Indian heritage, as US Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counter-Terrorism Communications. Son of immigrant parents from India, Hussain had since 2010 served as US Special Envoy to the 57-member Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to build partnerships with Muslim communities around the world.

Also last week, the White House named Dhanurjay ‘DJ’ Patil as its first chief data scientist to help shape policies and practices to help the US remain a leader in technology and innovation.

Rajiv Shah, another son of immigrant Indian parents, Friday left the US Agency for International Development (USAID) after five years at the helm of the agency engaged in a mission of ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies.

At a little over three million, Americans of Indian ancestry make up about one percent of the US population, the country’s third largest Asian ancestry group after Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans. But they are America’s best educated and the richest lot gaining prominence in every field from academia to science and technology.

They run various businesses, own about 80,000 convenience stores and manage over 20,000 motels — or Potels as they have come to be known as most of these are run by the Patel community from Gujarat.

Over 100,000 physicians of Indian origin take care of the nation’s health. Many head America’s top educational institutions, including the prestigious Harvard Business School. Now they are gaining a foothold in government and politics too.

With over a score direct Obama appointees in high places, two governors, a House member, a state attorney general and eight state legislators, Indian Americans have over the years gained power and influence far beyond their numbers. And their power keeps growing.

Among the recent Obama nominees was Arun Majumdar, an Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay) alumnus who began serving as one of four US science envoys Last month.

Earlier in December, Vivek Murthy created history as the youngest US Surgeon General and the first of Indian descent after cooling his heels for more than a year for Senate confirmation as ‘America’s doctor’ in the face of strong opposition by the powerful gun lobby.

But unlike Murthy, Richard Rahul Verma sailed through the Senate to take up his position as Washington’s first Indian American envoy in New Delhi ahead of Obama’s historic visit to become the first US president to be the guest of honour at India’s Republic Day.

With Verma in New Delhi and Nisha Desai Biswal heading the State Department’s South Asia bureau, Indian Americans are now watching US interests in both capitals.

Biswal is assisted by Atul Keshap, another Indian American, while Puneet Talwar as assistant secretary for political-military affairs serves as a bridge between the State and Defence departments. And Arun Madhavan Kumar as assistant secretary of commerce and director general of the US and Foreign Commercial Service is charged with boosting US trade.

Amid growing protests over the treatment of blacks, Obama chose Vanita Gupta to lead the US justice department’s civil rights division charged with enforcing laws that prevent discrimination.

Another Indian American Anita M. Singh was picked up for a key job in the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD) to counter state-sponsored economic espionage and proliferation, including through cyberspace. Indira Talwani and Manish Shah became the first Asian American federal judges in Massachusetts and Obama’s home state of Illinois, respectively.

To clean up the Wall Street, Obama picked up Preet Bharara as New York’s US attorney. Known in India for his dogged prosecution of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, Bharara tasted his first defeat in July after winning 85 insider trading cases.

Earlier in his first term, Obama chose Aneesh Paul Chopra as America’s first chief technology officer and Vivek Kundra as the first US chief information officer.

Rohit “Ro” Khanna served as deputy assistant secretary in the US Commerce department before making an unsuccessful bid for the US House seat last November.

And Neel Tushar Kashkari, who made a failed run for California governor in November, earned the nickname of “700 billion-dollar man” for leading the federal bank bailout plan from October 2008 to May 2009.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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