Even as the Devyani Khobragade affair recedes from the front pages, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has gone after another prominent Indian American.
This time it’s the outspoken conservative darling Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza is accused of breaking United States laws about campaign funding limits. Bharara alleges that D’Souza got others to donate money to a U.S. Senate campaign in their names and then reimbursed them because he would have broken the law if he had donated all the money in his own name. Reuters identifies the candidate as Wendy Long who tried to unseat Kirsten Gillibrand in New York in 2012.
D’Souza, if convicted, could face up to seven years in prison. D’Souza’s lawyer has said there was no “corrupt or criminal intent” and no “quid pro quo.” “He and the candidate have been friends since their college days, and at worst, this was an act of misguided friendship by D’Souza,” he said. Basic translation: Rich guy felt the law was getting in his way. So he found his way around it. It’s his money anyway.
Bharara, on the other hand, wants to project himself as “Mr Zero Tolerance” who will not let D’Souza’s fame or Devyani’s status deter him. A law is a law whether it’s about an employment contract for a nanny or a campaign finance limit.
But in these matters timing is everything. And Bharara will find it hard to duck charges that his zeal for righteousness is turning into a full-blown case of the MATA syndrome—as in More American Than American. That’s not because Dinesh D’Souza is dearly beloved in the Indian community. His pop psychology analysis of “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” was a hit among Obama-haters. His documentary Obama’s America is “the highest grossing explicitly right wing film ever.”
Will Leith on Deadspin described its plot in a nutshell: Best I can tell, his argument is that Obama got his entire political worldview from his late father, who D’Souza claims was an anti-colonialist, anti-American, racist terrorist drunken black guy from some crazy black-guy country. Hence, Obama hates America and is part of some secret plot launched by his father to take down the country from inside the very belly of the beast.
It fired up Obama’s many bitter foes, but did little to swiftboat his electoral campaign. And it certainly won’t win D’Souza new friends in the overwhelmingly Democratic Indian-American community.
So while they will shed few tears for the impending downfall of Dinesh D’Souza, they will also be looking rather nervously at hamara Preet, who is showing little preet for his community.
As journalist Siddharth Mitter quips on Twitter, “It’s getting harder to argue that Preet Bharara isn’t on an ill one-man mission to purge Desi America of rogues and miscreants.”
Clearly, Bharara would say he is just doing his job in the most color-blind way possible. And one would have to tot up the entire record of everyone his office has gone after to see if there’s a disproportionate number of South Asians in the mix.
Ultimately of course, it’s the conviction rate that will make Bharara’s reputation or ruin it, not the color of the defendants’ skin. It’s easy to speculate that Indian Americans must go further to prove their loyalty to America but hard to prove it.
As Aseem Shukla, a member of the board of directors of the Hindu American Foundation writes in India Abroad: Bharara is celebrated because of his 77 of 77 conviction rate for insider trading cases, and not because his convictions happen to include a Raj Rajaratnam or a Rajat Gupta, whose guilt was proven in court. And if Khobragade curses his name, she shares her woes with leagues of Wall Street titans.
There are exceptions no doubt, but the progeny of India do not submit to a litmus test of loyalty in the United States, as much as it needs no certificate from India or being Indian enough or MATA.
This is really the Indian community’s problem with its Indian American children rather than Preet Bharara’s desi problem.
Ami Bera, a newly minted Congressman from California told India Abroad that 2013 was a “coming of age of the community.” “It clearly shows that the Indian-American community with its second and third generation are now completely ingrained in the mainstream of America,” he said. He was talking about the record number of Indian American Obama appointees as well as judges. But when Bera said “ingrained in the mainstream of America” he also quietly removed the fence-straddling hyphen from their identities, at least in their professional lives. While Indians celebrate those appointments as a kind of community achievement, the sheer number of those appointees also frees them from the pressure of being any kind of representatives for India’s honor.
Bharara might not repudiate his heritage the way a Bobby Jindal has. But a Preet Bharara can show up at his rubber chicken and wine Indian American of the Year reception in a Manhattan ballroom and feel no more sense of special indebtedness to the community feting him than a Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley does.
In his statement after the Khobragade affair became a political hot potato, Bharara said “this Office’s sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law—no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are.”
He did not mention race or ethnicity. But it is perhaps a twisted reflection of the Indian community’s success in the United States that his pursuit of law breakers among the “powerful, rich or connected” is netting so many desis.
Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost.com. He is on leave as editor with New America Media. His weekly dispatches from India can be heard onKALW.org. This article was first published on FirstPost.com.