September 11, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Vivek Ramaswamy’s candidacy is good for the Indian diaspora. We also look at the decline in tea production in Assam, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is Vivek Ramaswamy’s candidacy good for the Indian diaspora?
In what is being termed India’s counter-colonization, leading European nations now have Indian-origin heads of government. As Indian aspirations increase, the prime ministership of England, Portugal, and Ireland now appear to be ‘small-fish’ as Indians, in Vivek Ramaswamy, now aim to take on the presidency of the United States of America.
While winning over predominantly white voters might be a hard crack, Ramaswamy has reached the #3 position in the Republican primaries behind “India’s friend Doland Trump” and the incumbent Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Taking Ramaswamy’s best-case scenario where he manages to trump Trump and DeSantis, what does an Indian-origin president mean for the large Indian diaspora in the US?
In August last month, attendees at the Iowa State Fair got to see a South Asian guy rapping a version of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’. Not MC Stan or KR$NA but it was the 2024 presidential hopeful, Indian-origin Vivek Ramaswamy. Just turned 38, Ramaswamy is the youngest major Republican presidential candidate who had announced his bid for the top job in February this year.
He is not the only Indian in the presidential race as he is accompanied by Nikki Haley and Hirsh Vardhan Singh, both from his own party. However, his stellar performance in the US presidential campaigns has caught the eye of Indian diaspora watchers. The healthcare and tech sector entrepreneur from southwest Ohio was born to Kerala immigrant parents. His father was an engineer at General Electric and his mother was a geriatric psychiatrist.
With a set of Ivy League degrees, Ramaswamy comes across as a new breed of ‘non-politicians’ who seem to be able to connect to the people more directly. While he attended Harvard for his undergrad and did Law at Yale before turning to venture capital, Ramaswamy has no political experience. However, this is being considered by several political analysts to be a plus for him. Americans are said to be tired of ‘career politicians’ and Ramaswamy’s engaging and outgoing personality and “Reddit-thread type ideas” have got him the highest approval rating of any Republican candidate in New Hampshire.
Ramaswamy’s campaign ‘Speak the Truth’ comes in a climate of polarisation and mutual hatred in the US between different factions sowing divisiveness across races, genders, classes, religions, and generations. The “anti-woke” Republican espouses a fiercely nationalist stance and plans strategies that benefit the American people foremost, without reneging on the current American God-complex. While critical of the Florida governor DeSantis, Ramaswamy has so far refused to criticize the twice-impeached former president Donald Trump and even promises to carry forward his work.
During his campaign, Ramaswamy has been a constant focus for the media as he at times compared himself to America’s founding fathers. In another instance, he proposed to take away the voting rights of people aged under 25. While it remains unclear whether a person of Indian descent can charm Republican voters, 85% of whom are white, Ramaswamy has displayed a unique mix of Christianity and Hinduism in campaigns.
However, Ramaswamy who trails at #3 with an estimated 6.7% votes in his party behind DeSantis and former president Trump (54.6%), has so far refused to employ his Hindu identity to garner votes in the diaspora. Thus, it remains to be seen if Ramaswamy’s candidature (or a very less likely win) will bring in any tangible benefits for the Indian diaspora. It is likely that his divisive politics might engender hate for a vulnerable minority in a foreign land.
VIEW: Indians get a soft-power boost
Indian-Americans today lead multiple large US companies and occupy top executive positions in several others. As the Indian diaspora becomes more established and integrated into American life, Ramaswamy’s entry into the presidential fray can be seen as yet another example of Indian Americans making a mark in the socio-political arena.
While Ramaswamy might have kept his Hindu identity distanced in his political campaigning, he has often talked about being a “proud Hindu”. In his books, which he used to gather political fame, Ramaswamy comments on American society invoking Swami Vivekananda (after whom he has been named) and Adi Shankaracharya (after whom his brother was named). Ramaswamy talks about renunciation, samadhi, moksha, and reincarnation while drawing parallels between the ideals of Plato’s philosopher-kings and the “vaanaprastha” phase of Indian traditional life stages (varnashrama). These discourses are likely to get more centre-stage as Ramaswamy’s campaign progresses, thus bringing attention to Indian culture.
Ramaswamy’s candidacy doesn’t offer only intangible benefits of cultural discourse. He is also critical of the hiring practices of U.S.’s top companies who “regularly disfavour qualified applicants who happen to be white or Asian”. He has been campaigning for a “colourblind meritocracy”. Should such opinions transform into policy upon his ascending to Office, Indian job seekers in the state might get some relief. Protesting factions of the Indian diaspora over California’s anti-caste bill might also look at Ramaswamy with some hope. He is from the upper caste and has been critical of the “victimhood mindset” of people.
COUNTERVIEW: Opens the Indian diaspora to hate
The incumbent Vice-President of the United States of America, Kamala Harris, also has Indian ancestry. However, her having the #2 job in the US can be said to have little direct relationship to the well-being of the Indian diaspora. Placing Ramaswamy in a generic category of Indian political figures abroad whom we routinely get excited about because of their ancestry or some token cultural gesture would be a mistake. As with any diaspora, we might tend to see a compatriot in a political office as success in a job, not as a fundamental questioning of their job description itself.
A look at Ramaswamy’s politics raises concerns. Embroiled in controversies which some call to be best suited for Reddit posts, Ramaswamy’s talks are replete with references to the “American Deep State”. Chief among his campaign promises is a dismantling of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and laying off of up to 75% of the federal employees. Apart from promises that can stir mass panic, Ramaswamy has been openly anti-trans calling the transgender people a “cancer on the nation’s soul”. In identifying himself as an inheritor of a ‘250-year-old culture’, he also has the potential to stoke the flames of interracial relationships for the Indian diaspora. He calls Juneteenth (the day commemorating the end of slavery) a “made-up holiday” and calls racial discrimination a “hardship of life” whose sufferers have chosen victimhood.
Ramaswamy, in walking in Trump’s footsteps, has also taken a very strong anti-immigration stance. As Indians continue to struggle and perish along illegal US-Mexico border crossings, Ramaswamy has promised increased military presence along the border with a strict no-tolerance policy. This while his party in the Senate had been blocking the appointment of the Ambassador to India resulting in waits of more than three years for visa approvals.
Even within the Republican party, Ramaswamy is accused of splitting the votes. He has refused to be a running-mate for Donald Trump while going on a complete offensive against DeSantis. Their respective supporters are likely to be miffed for the lost votes. While his agendas and divisive claims might slightly boost his standings in Republican circles as he tries to play the ‘model minority’, a majority of the Indian diaspora lives in ‘blue states’ (strongholds of the Democratic party) and can face consequences for his actions.
- Vamsee Juluri writes: Vivek Ramaswamy’s view of America is rooted in Hindu philosophy – The Indian Express
- Blog: Can Vivek Ramaswamy’s Social Media-Friendly Takes Win Him An Election? – NDTV
- US Presidential polls 2024: Indian-American Ramaswamy, a newly minted debate star thinks he can fake it – Mint
- ‘America First 2.0’: Vivek Ramaswamy pitches to be Republicans’ next Trump – The Guardian
- How Vivek Ramaswamy is pushing — delicately — to win over Trump supporters – The Times of India
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Vivek Ramaswamy’s candidacy gives Indians a boost in the American political climate.
b) Vivek Ramaswamy’s candidacy offers little tangible benefits to the Indian diaspora.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
‘Free-thinking culture will end’: Why Kerala opposes a role for the Centre in public libraries
For the Left:
How do you count the takeaways from India’s G20? It’s as simple as ABCD
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Job fairs (Haryana) – Chief Minister Mohan Lal Khattar announced the government will organise 200 job fairs this year to help provide employment opportunities for youngsters. Per the government, 1.14 lakh jobs have been provided, and more than 56,000 government jobs will be assigned. The state’s goal is to provide employment to 2 lakh youth in Haryana.
Why it matters: Since January 2019, over 1,400 job fairs have been organised in the state, with 31,217 youngsters benefitting from job opportunities. Thanks to the Haryana Skill Development Mission, over 80,000 youngsters have benefitted. With the establishment of the Shri Vishwakarma Skill University, the youth has been provided with training and industry-oriented education.
Vice-Chancellor appointment concerns (Tamil Nadu) – Several academicians are concerned about the ongoing standoff between Governor RN Ravi and the state government over the appointment of VCs to universities. They’re worried these frequent tussles will affect the quality of higher education. Former Anna University VC E Balagurusamy said the idea of including a nominee of UGC in the search committees is good but can’t be done arbitrarily by Raj Bhavan.
Why it matters: One suggestion from Balagurusamy is to amend the University Acts to include UGC members to avoid any local bias. Other groups, including the Tamil Nadu Retired College Teachers Association, also expressed concern on the issue. Tamil Nadu has yet to adopt the 2018 UGC guidelines, and including the UGC chairman’s nominee infringes upon the rights of the state.
Governor’s letters (West Bengal) – Governor CV Ananda Bose is unhappy with the criticism he received from the state Education Minister Bratya Basu, accusing him of trying to destroy the higher education system in the state. In response, Bose reportedly sent two confidential letters, one to the Centre and the other to the state secretariat, Nabanna. The subject of the letters is unknown, and Bose said it’ll be revealed later.
Why it matters: The minister accused the Governor of running a puppet regime as he’s in charge of state-run universities as chancellor. Basu was unhappy with the way Bose was making appointments to the universities. The West Bengal Educationists’ Forum called Bose’s comments on supposed action at midnight as threats.
Developing mining closure hit areas (Goa) – The state will spend ₹177 crore on projects to benefit people in areas hit by mining closures. The Directorate of Mining and Geology (DMG) will identify the projects and work with the North Goa District Mineral Foundation Trust (NGDMFT) and the South Goa District Mineral Foundation Trust (SGDMFT). They’ll examine proposals from local panchayats and urban local bodies. Then they’ll prepare annual plans and budgets.
Why it matters: The SGDMFT has already sanctioned ₹27 crore for 24 projects, and the NGDMFT has sanctioned ₹48.5 crore for 31 projects. Over the past several years, several mines in the states have been forced to close due to government and court orders. Since the mining sector employs many people, the government wants to ensure the local population is cared for.
Tea production worries (Assam) – Tea production in the state has been on a declining trend in the first quarter of 2023-24. Climate change is said to be the primary reason for the decreased production. According to the Tea Board of India, from April to June 2023-24, 168.38 million kg of tea was produced compared to 179.36 million kg during the corresponding period in 2022-23. The big tea growers recorded 84.22 million kg in Q1 compared to 84.14 million kg by small growers.
Why it matters: This year marks 200 years of tea production in Assam. Among the reasons for a decline in production is low rainfall in the first three months of the year. Ideal tea production needs rain during the night and sunshine during the day. Assam received only some rainfall in April, but it wasn’t enough. The temperature also exceeded 30 degrees during the day, which isn’t ideal for tea production.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$10 million – India and the United States will invest $10 million to establish the India-US Global Challenges Institute. It’ll unite research and higher education institutions from both countries to advance science and technology.