Tag Archives: #2020election

Why This Republican Indian-American Veteran Turned Democrat

I immigrated to the United States of America in 1992. I was a young man, under 21 years old. Shortly after my arrival, I found myself working at TEXACO to earn money, not realizing that I had just then personified the American cliché of a brown man from India working at a gas station.

As my family became situated, I joined the United States Army Reserves. I was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I put my studies on hold and volunteered for active duty and was sent into the active war zone in Afghanistan. I wanted to do my duty, and fight back in the face of the massive terrorist attack that we had all experienced. This drive was inspired by Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, where he instructed me to do my duty, since action (karma) is superior to inaction.

I suppose you could say I was a staunch “Rush Limbaugh Republican”  from the moment I arrived in 1992. Looking back, I believe my Republican identity was due to the very fact that I was an immigrant: I came through the proper legal channels and had worked extremely hard for what I had. It felt natural to align with conservatives living in my community in Georgia.

After I moved to Arizona, I became active in my local Republican party and nearly ran for political office. At that time, I was virulently anti-illegal immigration, owned many guns, and supported all of America’s military engagements overseas. Even as I was deployed multiple times into combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had no second thoughts about any of my deployments. I completely trusted President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld and did not see any reason to doubt any decisions they took to send me to fight other brown people.

I did not realize then, in the manner I do today, that throughout my deployments, I was in subconscious conflict with people who shared a culture that was quite similar to my own. They even resembled me physically much more than my white compatriots did. Though there were horrible people on the battlefield who would have readily killed me, my family, and other Americans if presented the opportunity, the majority of the people caught up in the conflict, had no such terrorist credentials.

I failed to realize after my deployments that I was suffering from combat-related Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) No amount of cost-benefit analysis could justify my involvement in these unjust U.S. led wars, which made my PTSD suffering even worse. My war buddies and I belong to a generation of war veterans who absolutely detest being “thanked” for their service. Most people who have not served in the military do not realize that this country’s Republican leadership at that time, in waging the war in Iraq, had subjected their own military forces and their families to absolute hell without a clear endgame in sight. 

I hadn’t realized that while fighting in barren combat zones, my erstwhile Republican utopia had had a tiny seed of reality planted in it for the first time. Fast forward a few years past both my daughters’ births, and I fully realized that I could no longer ignore reality in my search for arbitrary acceptance into American society. I could no longer afford the false belief and luxury of thinking that as a successful and well-off Indian American, I was “white enough” in a society that was getting more virulently anti-minority by the minute. Around the time President Obama’s second term in office ended, and Trump ripped apart Hillary Clinton’s dreams of a Presidency, I finally accepted my truth and became a Democrat.

As November approaches, I realize that as a Hindu, I must take action. Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad Gita 3.8, “niyataṁ kuru karma tvaṁ karma jyāyo hyakarmaṇaḥ śharīra-yātrāpi cha te na prasiddhyed akarmaṇaḥ” (action is better than inaction).  If I refuse to fight against the injustices I see, I will sin (pāpam). Lord Krishna says as much to Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita, 2.33. It is for these reasons that blind acceptance of all the destructive and racist policies of the Trump administration, simply because he appears to have a friendly relationship with Indian Prime Minister Modi, is morally wrong for Hindus. Excusing the Trump administration’s criminal actions in Washington, D.C., or Portland, Oregon, or the deliberate separation and imprisonment of little kids in cages away from their parents at the border would make me a deserter of my Dharma. 

As Indians and Hindus, we must remember that it is the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who are fighting for the poor, the weak, the minorities, and for social equity and justice. Vice President Joe Biden is a man of conviction who has suffered unimaginable losses in his personal life, which in turn have honed him to be laser-focused (what we refer to as “एकाग्रता,” or concentration) on what he feels is vital for social good. Biden has been and always will be a friend to India. More importantly, he will support us immigrants who willingly chose to leave India behind and voluntarily became citizens of our new home, the U.S.

On this auspicious occasion of the 73rd Indian Independence Day, it would be a fitting tribute to our former home to stay true to our culture, our traditions, and our compassion for others. We represent India in the best light possible in our new home through our actions. I hope that you join me in voting for Joe Biden for President on November 3, 2020. 

In the words of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: “Take to the path of Dharma – the path of truth and justice. Don’t misuse your valor. Remain united. March forward in all humility, but fully awake to the situation you face, demanding your rights and firmness.”

Ruchir Bakshi is a U.S. Army combat veteran with deployments to locations in South Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Ruchir has a MA degree in Management, and he is a highly experienced Instructional Systems Design professional and has worked on both unclassified and classified projects within the federal government. He is a national board member of South Asians for Biden.

United We Stand: Civic Leadership Initiatives For Asian American Representation

On May 3, 2019 Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA)  and DingDing TV in partnership with India Currents held a Civic Leadership Forum aimed at addressing the need for Asian American to work together — the central question of the night being: What are the challenges facing Asian Americans? 

A special guest for the event was Congressman David Wu, the first Taiwanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Dr. Xiaoyan Zhang Cheng, visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh, gave the keynote address. Aided with a PowerPoint presentation, he spoke of the unequal representation of Asian Americans in the political sphere. He focused on the fact that Asians tend to pursue high-paying jobs in STEM, thus paying disproportionately high tax dollars compared to other communities. The interesting thing, he noted, was that despite the larger portion of tax dollars paid, the number of Asian Americans holding public office was not proportional.

He also spoke of the pervasive nature of unequal Asian American representation in performing arts. However cinematic hits like Harold and Kumar and Crazy Rich Asians, proved to Hollywood that stories about Asians, featuring Asian actors and actresses in lead roles, can be enjoyed by all – AND make money!! 

“All boats are lifted when water rises,” was his message that resonated with all, highlighting the power of working together. 

This was followed by a panel discussion led by Joel Wong, former President of APAPA Greater Bay Area about the need for Asian communities to work together. The panel included Angelica Cortez (Investor Relations,  Silicon Valley Leadership Group), Somanjana Chatterjee (Diversity Ambassador, India Currents) , and Cathy Peng (CEO at ROCS Global), representing the Filipino, Indian, and Chinese communities respectively. The panelists spoke of of the need for Asians to work together and the successes that are possible with this combined effort.

The program concluded with a dance piece choreographed by Mythili Kumar, Artistic Director, Abhinaya Dance Company. The performance featured “I Have A Dream” — a piece in bharatanatyam (an Indian classical dance form) performed by Indian-American dancers, about the struggles within the African-American community, which was viewed predominantly by audience members who were Chinese-American. A beautiful example of working together!

Events like these are essential in educating a new generation of leaders drawn from within the Asian American community. True to Dr. Xiaoyan Zhang Cheng’s words, the face of genuine representation will be the election of an Asian American president in the near future.

We Are The Party Of Opportunity

“We are the party of opportunity for all,” declared Seema Nanda in an exclusive conversation with me late last week. As head of the Democratic National Committee, a post that she holds as we head into the final year and a half before a crucial national election, she is busy planning party strategy at many levels. Her voice did not waver – there was clarity and a sense of clear purpose as she outlined the party position on various issues as we chatted.

After the unexpected defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016, the question of what the overall party message will be in the coming months is a burning question in my mind. And, her answer was clear and unequivocal in its message of inclusivity.

“We have a message that resonates with all Americans – truth, opportunity, justice for all people, affordable healthcare and protecting all immigrants.” A positive message that aims to connect with all voters across the political spectrum. Her message was hopeful and inclusive – so I paused and asked her about her thoughts on the Republican message. Here, her answer was again clear and straightforward. “Hateful rhetoric has no place in our party; in fact, no party should appeal to our fear. When one group is attacked, we need to remember that no one is protected. This message stokes people’s fears about all sorts of immigrants.”

Seema Nanda pictured front row, middle

Seema says that she is so heartened with the woke community of South Asians working all over the country on behalf of Democratic candidates. “What I saw in Michigan shortly before the midterm elections resonated with me deeply. I was campaigning for candidates up and down the ballot. South asian community members were actively engaged in campaigning – many had never been politically engaged, but now they were signing up for shifts to knock on neighbors’ doors. They are also signing up to run for office at so many levels – from city councils to school boards to congressional seats. And, even if the South Asian candidate does not end up winning the primary, large numbers of community members are stepping up and doing their part.” This, she said, was a “positive development like none other.”

Also, as voters, she said, “Asian-Americans can ensure a critical margin for victory in countless races in the 2020 elections. They voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the midterm election in 2018. We need to get the message out to all Asian Americans that we are indeed the party of opportunity; we are a pro-business party,” she declared.

Seema Nanda pictured second from left

When I asked her about the slate of candidates who have launched primary presidential campaigns in the Democratic party, she proudly said, “We have an embarrassment of riches with fantastic candidates on our side. At the DNC, my job is to make sure that the American people hear what they stand for, loud and clear. They are talking about issues that Americans truly care about – healthcare, the environment, gun violence – these are the issues that we should all care about. The fact that we have so many candidates is a very healthy process for the party.”

In focus groups, Americans continue to point out healthcare as being a crucial issue for them. “The availability of affordable healthcare threatens the economic security of millions of people, and the Republican party has been chipping away at the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without having an alternative plan in place.” Moving to issue based policymaking, I ask her about the setback because of the defeat of the new Green Deal. “In fact, the failure of the new Green deal is not really a failure, because we are the only party that is even talking about climate change – the other party is not even at the table. They are denying the findings of climate science.”

Moving to the hot button issue that fills our media channels day in an day out – she says, “Immigration – we have always lead on immigration, and lobbied for comprehensive immigration reform, and our efforts have been scuttled by the Republicans. The President has used his large bully pulpit  to confuse and mislead the American public. Our asylum policies comply with international law. Instead, today those seeking asylum are being treated in a despicable and inhumane manner.” When I pushed her saying that the obfuscation of issues has definitely led to a sea change in opinions of what immigrants contribute in our country, she said, “I agree with you – there are concerted efforts to confuse the issue. But, we are standing by the side of immigrants – we continue to ask about the children in detention. Even lawful immigration has been targeted. For instance, family based immigration which is perfectly legal is now being referred to as ‘chain migration’ an absolutely disgusting term. We need to unite around these issues, not be divided.”

As for nuts and bolts strategies in the coming months, the Rust Belt states are being organized differently this time. “We are on the ground organizing earlier than we did the last time around. One of the challenges we face when we are the opposition party is that after the nominating convention, we only have 5 to 6 months of national campaigning time before we go to the polls. This time, starting this summer, we are training 1000 young people in a special program, and once the nominee is decided, we will be able to ramp up dramatically soon to reach all segments of the population with our message. We are also campaigning for voter access all over the country, including on college campuses so that we hear from all segments, including young voters. Our challenge will be to counteract untruths from entering the election debate. We are on the lookout in cyberspace and we will counteract immediately that appears as lies to discredit our candidates and our policies.”

And, so ends my chat with Seema Nanda – with her articulating a clear, positive message – a message of inclusivity and of opportunity. As the weeks and months roll on, her ability to serve as the backbone in organizing a successful campaign on behalf of the Demoacratic party is sure to be tested at many levels. The American people will be watching the campaign and the party as they take the message of inclusivity and opportunity out to voters.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing editor of India Currents magazine.