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February 10, 2021 Wednesday 10:41:41 AM IST

Made in India, Policy Makers in US

Expert Counsel

The Presidential elections in United States of America (USA) and the events that unfolded there subsequent to the polls, which culminated in the storming of the Capitol by violent mobsters supporting Donald Trump caught the attention of the entire world. These developments overshadowed the more concrete and substantial ones that took place in Washington, where Joe Biden, the President- elect, was putting together his Cabinet. The important nominees include Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State, Avril Haines for post of Director National Intelligence and Gen. Lloyd Austin to head the Defence department. USA goes through a system of getting approval from the Senate for confirmation of nominations to the key positions and it is only after this is obtained that the persons could assume office and start working.

 However, this time there has been keen interest from observers within our country about the composition of Biden’s team based on expectations that there would be higher representation of Indian origin persons in the Cabinet. This was not only on account of Kamala Harris, the Vice President elect, having roots in Tamil Nadu from her mother’s side, but also due to the conspicuous Indian presence in the Democratic campaign for the White House. Further increasing numbers of persons, born to Indian immigrants, and brought up and schooled in USA, are taking active interest in affairs of the state and matters affecting the public in that country.

Neera Tanden

The most prominent amongst the Indian origin nominees of Biden is Ms. Neera Tanden who has been nominated as Director in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The responsibility of OMB involves preparation of the budget and examination of various policy initiatives to ensure that are in line with those of the President and coordination between different agencies on this front. Ms. Tanden was close to the Clintons, especially Hillary, and was a member of team that drafted Affordable Care Act during the Obama years. An alumnus of Yale Law School, she worked in the think tank, Centre for America’s Progress (CAP), and became its President and CEO in 2011.As Director of OMB, she will be working in the Executive Wing of White House and reporting directly to President and his Chief of Staff. As this is a post that needs confirmation from the senate, she would start working only after this is obtained.

Dr Vivek Murthy

 The nomination of Dr Vivek Murthy for the post of Surgeon General would not have surprised many people. Dr. Murthy became familiar to healthcare professionals around the globe when he served as Surgeon General from December 2014 till April 2017, before he was relieved from this post by Donald Trump. After a glittering academic career that saw him pass out with MD from Yale Medical School and MBA from Yale Business School, he  served as Vice Admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, where he became the youngest ever flag officer in federal uniformed service. During Obama regime his focus as Surgeon General was on prevention of disease through a combination of good nutrition, emotional well being and regular physical activity, rather than on treatment through expensive medicines and complex surgeries in tertiary care institutions. He has also been nominated as a co director of Covid-19 Advisory Board as well. Thus, he will be the key person in Biden’s team looking after the matters relating to healthcare during the times of pandemic. Since it is widely perceived that it was Trump’s poor handling of the pandemic related crisis that cost him a second term, Dr Murthy would be at the focus of a great deal of attention during the coming days.

Dr Celine Gounder

The next in the list of Indian origin nominees is Dr Celine Gounder, who has been included in the Covid-19 Advisory Board by the Biden. Dr Gounder comes with a diverse and interesting background as she is armed with degrees in molecular biology and medicine, including residency in internal medicine, besides working as a film maker and medical journalist. A renowned medical epidemiologist, she has vast experience in working towards controlling Tuberculosis. Her nomination is an acknowledgment for her committed service in the area of epidemiology and prevention of communicable diseases.

Other than these three eminent personalities, there are nearly 20 more prominent Indian origin personnel figuring in the Agency Review Teams (ART’s) announced by Biden. ART’s are set up to study the functioning of the various agencies/ departments in the prevailing administration and interact with set of officials and think tanks to ensure a smooth transition for the incoming team. The more notable names in the list of Indian origin nominees in ART’s are Arun Mazumdar (team lead for department of energy), Rahul Gupta (team lead for National Drug Control Policy) and Kiran Ahuja (team lead for department of Personnel). It is only natural that some of these persons will find important roles to play in the new administration. 

The Select List

Sabrina Singh, White House Deputy Press Secretary (formerly Press Secretary to Kamala Harris in election campaign), Gautam Raghavan, Deputy Director in Office of Presidential Personnel (formerly Adviser to Biden Foundation and Vice President of Policy of Gill Foundation), Garima Varma, Digital Director (formerly with Paramount Pictures and the Walt Disney Company’s ABC Network),  Sameera Fazil,Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council (former senior policy adviser under the Obama  administration), Aisha Shah, Partnership Manager, White House Office of Digital Strategy, Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Vanita Gupta, Associate Attorney General (served as head of the civil rights division of Justice Department under President Obama), Mala Adiga, policy director of Jill Biden, the First lady of US, Neha Gupta, Associate Counsel at the Office of the White House, Sumona Guha, Senior Director for South Asia (previously co-chair of the South Asia foreign policy working group on the Biden-Harris campaign), Vinay Reddy, Director of Speech writing (former Senior Advisor and Speechwriter for the Biden-Harris campaign), Vedant Patel, Assistant Press Secretary, Sonia Aggarwal, Senior Advisory for Climate Policy and Innovation, Tarun Chhabra, Senior Director for Technology and National Security, Vidur Sharma, Policy Advisor for Testing for the White House Covid-19 Response Team (former Health policy advisor under Obama rule), Shanthi Kalathil, Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in National Security Council and Reema Shah, Deputy Associate Counsel at the Office of the White House. 

It should be remembered that Indian origin Americans were present in Trump administration as well though in smaller numbers. The most prominent amongst them was Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina, who served as Ambassador to United Nations till December 2018. Others who held important positions include Raj Shah, who served as Deputy Press Secretary and Deputy Assistant to President, Ajit Pai, the Chairman of Federal Communication Commission, Neil Chatterjee, Chairman and Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission and Manisha Singh, Assistant Secretary of State.

 Attributes of Success

Thus, though the Indian community comprises less than 1.5% of the total population of USA and lags behind Latinos, Europeans and the Chinese in absolute numbers, they punch much above their weight on the public arena. This is due to two main reasons- their upward social mobility which is founded on the twin pillars of academic brilliance and adherence to family values and their willingness to contribute to the public causes. Most of the persons now occupying senior positions in administration are children of Indians who had immigrated to USA during the 1960’s and 1970’s.These lot were invariably professionals- doctors and engineers- who carried with them traditional middle class virtue of giving good education to children. These kids, who were born in USA, utilised the opportunities provided by the top class universities available there to emerge with excellent academic credentials. However, instead of embarking on a career in corporate world and pursuing accolades and riches there, they chose to devote time to actively engage in public work, thereby demonstrating their leadership abilities as well as a strong commitment to serve fellow human beings. This has paid the Indian community rich dividends, besides helping to improve the prestige of the land of their forefathers, in the country where they were born.

 The success of Indian origin persons anywhere in the world fills us with pride. However, while doing so, we must acknowledge that this is made possible by the positive approach taken by the host country to integrate the immigrants into their society. While basking in the success of Indian origin persons in USA and their increasing presence in the administration there, we should also take away the valuable lesson that only a society that acknowledges the merits of immigrants and value their contribution by treating them as equals would be able to benefit from their contributions  substantially.

Dr. K N Raghavan

The writer is Chairman and Executive Director Of Rubber Board. 
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