All posts by Kabita Sonowal

In Support of the Deserving Torch Bearers of Change

US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) as a bipartisan organization has always been known for its inimitable activities towards encouraging Indian-Americans to voice their political concerns for more than a decade now. It has achieved a lot for the community by representing and initiating relevant discussions on issues affecting the community leading to appropriate solutions. It has supported many deserving Indian-American electoral candidates in the past and not just Indian Americans, USINPAC has always supported candidates who have an inspirational record and Tulsi Gabbard is one of them. She happens to be the youngest woman in the U.S. to be elected to a state legislature, Hawaii. In 2012, she made headlines as she took the oath of office over a Bhagavad Gita that she claims happens to be her spiritual guide. Exemplary, inspiring, and motivating to a whole generation of Indian-American and multicultural youth, she currently serves as a Military Police Company Commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard.

Congresswoman Tulsi _BJP President Rajnath_Capitol Hill 23 CompLooking at Gabbard’s portfolio, it is simply exceptional and versatile. She is the first American-Samoan, the first Hindu member, and one of the first female combat veterans in the American Congress. Going back, in 2002, she first ran for Hawaii’s 42nd House District of the Hawaii House of Representatives. She emerged winner in the general election defeating Republican Alfonso Jimenez. She represented the Oahu 42nd District. During this time, she became the youngest legislator ever elected in the history of Hawaii and the youngest woman elected to state office in the country. During her stint, she spearheaded the resolution of issues including dengue fever, medical waste, and the creation of jobs. In 2004, she moved on to volunteer for National Guard service in Iraq.

In 2012, Tulsi Gabbard decided to bid for the House. USINPAC has supported her right from the start of the campaign. She won the general election on November 6, 2012 by defeating Republican Kawika Crowley and her stance on the empowerment of women is well-known. She has been vocal about the state allowing women to serve in all military roles including combat. She has also served on two deployments to the Middle East. She is pro-affordable healthcare services that would reduce the risk of unwanted teen pregnancies. Another feather-in-the-cap among her many accomplishments is her support towards healthcare and education programs and initiatives for Native Hawaiians. What is truly laudable from Tulsi’s contribution is her work towards relaxing outdated visa restrictions, especially concerning those from India and China.

Her father, Mike Gabbard is a Democratic member of the Hawaii senate and is a practicing Catholic of European-Samoan origin. She believes that her election gives hope to young American Hindus who ‘can be open about their faith, and even run for office, without fear of being discriminated against or attacked because of their religion. Multi-faced Gabbard is also a martial arts instructor.

USINPAC supports Gabbard in the upcoming elections as she represents values, diversity, and synergy associated with the Indian-American community. It has in the recent past supported Dr. Ami Bera, Latha Mangipudi, Kamala Harris, Dr. Swati Dandekar, and several other stalwarts who have influenced the progress of Indian-Americans in public service. It supports candidates for federal, state, and local office who understand the concerns of the Indian-American community and address them on priority. With a robust network of people, ideas, and progress, it encourages participation from individuals from various walks of life. Therefore, come, join, and set a paradigm for your society to follow.



Eight Indian-American Research Scholars Win Sloan Fellowships 2014

It was indeed an astounding moment for the Indian-American community and the Indian diaspora when eight Indian-American scholars were named winners of the 2014 Sloan Fellowships. Among a total of 126 young scholars who received the fellowships, five Indian-American men and three women won the accolades in their respective areas of research. This fellowship is awarded to young researchers who work across diverse academic disciplines including Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Mathematics, Computational and Evolutionary Molecular Biology, Neuroscience, Ocean Sciences, and Physics. It honors some of the best young scientific minds and aids them during a critical phase of their careers when initial funding and acknowledgement of their work can make a world of difference.

2014_2$largeimg219_Feb_2014_125630097The Indian-American winners are:
- Animashree Anandkumar for Computer Science: She is assistant professor at the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of California in Irvine. She is currently working on statistics gathering and computing through various types of graphical and variable models.
- Nayantara Bhatnagar for Mathematics: She is assistant professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences in the University of Delaware. She is working on a project that studies the relationship of Statistics with Physics.
- Prashant Jain for Chemistry: He is assistant professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. His research is based on molecular imaging.
- Anshul Kundaje for Computational and Evolutionary Molecular Biology: He is assistant professor at the Department of Genetics and the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. He works on models for genetic sequencing.
- Jeetain Mittal for Chemistry: He is assistant professor of Chemistry at Lehigh University and P.C. Rossin Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering. He works on the theory of protein stability and dynamics.
- Tapan Parikh in Computer Science: He is assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. He is working on the world’s most impoverished areas to develop technology to support sustainable economic development on a large scale.
- Pradeep Ravikumar for Computer Science: He is assistant professor at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Texas in Austin. He is working on ‘statistical machine learning’.
- Sushmita Roy for Computational and Evolutionary Molecular Biology. She is assistant professor at the Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Evidently enough, all these young achievers have one thing in common – extremely versatile and unique portfolios. They have set new scopes in their fields of research and have defined a trajectory for a young and future generation of Indian-American and other Indian scholars to continue this trend of achievement and make a difference in the world of science, economics, and society. They have pushed the peripheries of science to more innovative dimensions. Kudos to the young career achievers of the 2014 Sloan Fellowships!

Diplomacy in Arms

Surprisingly so much has recently been said about the Devyani Khobragade row, the proceedings of the imbroglio, and India’s stand on it. What has really an anomaly to India’s stance on their current position is their dual standards – on one hand, they have imposed certain restrictions on the U.S Embassy’s staff in India while they continue to be the biggest importer of arms from the U.S. The U.S.-India partnership, the ‘defining’ partnership of the 21st century seems to be shrouded in an inexplicable scenario. The arms contracts between the U.S. and India reveal no competitive bidding or transparency. Adding to the quagmire of the diplomatic chaos, India seems to be getting into deeper dependency on arms from the U.S. And it is time to face reality, despite India’s aspiration to become a major superpower; they have made no headway in terms of sustaining themselves on even the basics of weaponry.

US President Obama Visits India - Day 3

While India and the U.S. have come close to being partners, this partnership seems to focus mainly on buying arms from the U.S. India wants to project themselves as the bigger powerhouse in terms of nuclear weapons as compared to Pakistan. Or close to revealing a closer relationship with the U.S. would show India in a different light to China. This contract to supply arms to India has been going strong since President George W. Bush put an end to the ban on nuclear deals with India.

Amid all the diplomatic subtlety and the brouhaha, India does not seem to question the import of weaponry. Nor does the diplomatic situation show a relationship or partnership of equality no matter how much the U.S. talks about moving towards a long-term military relationship with India. A top military commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear recently said while talking to journalists at a Pentagon conference, “I think, in the long run, India’s role in security in a peaceful Indian Ocean is critical. We welcome that role.” He added, “To the degree that India chooses to take on that role and to participate with us and with other partners in global security, with a central force on the Indian Ocean, this is a good thing.”

No matter how hard India tries to counter China by standing too close to the U.S., the U.S.’ focus rests on China for their economic interests at the moment. Therefore, it is about time that India woke up.

H 417 Resolution Impact vis-à-vis India’s Sovereignty

On November 18, 2013, Congressman Joe Pitts and Congressman Frank Wolf initiated H. Res. 417. This Resolution intended to influence India’s forthcoming elections by focusing on the Gujarat riots in 2002 and Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi. In context to this controversial initiation, USINPAC successfully and relentlessly campaigned at the grassroots level to ensure that this Resolution did not move to the House floor for a vote. Earlier in December, 2013, Chairman Ed Royce of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to which H. Res. 417 was referred, voiced his concerns to USINPAC saying, “As Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am focused on the critically important relationship between the United States and India. Our two nations share many common values and strategic interests. India plays a central role in the Asia-Pacific region, and we must do our part to ensure that India is a centerpiece of America’s rebalance to Asia. H. Res. 417 weakens, rather than strengthens, the friendship between the U.S. and India. The resolution runs counter to all the hard work that the American people, particularly those in the Indian-American community, have done to improve the relationship.”

Eni Faleomavaega, Democrat from the Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific echoed a similar sentiment, “For this reason, I feel the need to speak out and reiterate what I am on record as saying shortly after the riots and ever since. Like any other Member of Congress committed to human rights, I see eye to eye with the national and international community that what happened in Gujarat calls for justice and accountability. But India, like the United States, has an independent and transparent Judiciary and, after an investigation that has been on-going for more than a decade, India’s Supreme Court and its Special Investigation Team have not found any evidence against Chief Minister Narendra Modi. This is why I believe the U.S. should shift its attitude and engage in dialogue with Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, just as the European Union and the UK are doing, and many other nations around the world.” He commended USINPAC’s efforts to summon the Indian-American community to oppose the resolution and the former’s work with top members from the House of Representatives to rectify the misinformation as shown by H 417. He added, “India is a multi-cultural and multi-religious Democracy, where the Leader of the Ruling party is of Italian heritage, the Prime Minister is a Sikh and the Vice President is a Muslim in an 80% Hindu country. Chief Minister Modi is a democratically elected leader and has been elected 3 times by the majority of some 60 million constituents. He may well be India’s next Prime Minister and Resolutions like H. Res. 417 do little to help strengthen U.S.-India relations or protect and promote U.S. interests abroad, especially in the Asia Pacific region.”

USINPAC has staunchly opposed this Resolution from going to the House floor for a vote. They stated that they would do all they could to disallow the U.S. Congress from ‘intentionally’ or unintentionally’ making an impact on India’s elections in 2014. They have vocally advocated that ‘India is a sovereign nation and its citizens have a right to choose their leaders’. Their efforts challenge the very nature of the Resolution that misinforms rather than set any situation right. Chief Minister Mr Narendra Modi who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the Gujarat pogrom was denied both business and tourist visas to the U.S under the Immigration and Nationality Act for alleged human rights violations. USINPAC had issued a statement on December 8, 2013 titled Setting the record straight about Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Further with the India elections being round the corner and Mr. Modi’s popularity among the Indian-American community, it is about time for the U.S. State Department to take a stand. He is the slated Prime Ministerial candidate from the BJP, India’s opposition political party. Going forward, this instance will impact U.S.-India ties and mutual decisions between the two nations pertaining to the Asia region.

The Rise of Indian-American Leaders in the American Political Scene

This year, we witnessed the emergence and political victories of many Indian-American leaders in the current American political scene. They have emerged leaders from diverse educational and professional backgrounds although with something in common: the urge and the mission to serve the community at large. This blog post highlights the achievements of some of these leaders who have consistently made an impact to their multi-cultural communities in the U.S. These leaders also reveal an insight into their commitments in their chosen disciplines. Sapana S. Shah won a berth in the Edison Municipal Council of New Jersey. She has been has been working with the Edison Board of Education since 2011. The young attorney at law specializes in litigation matters relating to personal injury, municipal court matters, criminal matters, employment discrimination, business & commercial litigation, and family law.

This year, Raj Mukherji, a former Deputy Mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey won the State Assembly elections to New Jersey’s 33rd Legislative District. He was part of the American military intelligence after he enlisted in the Marines post the 9/11 attacks; he is known for his philanthropic activities too. He attended the University of Pennsylvania from where he earned a Master’s degree. He now joins the state assembly post with fellow Indian American Upendra Chivukula in New Jersey.
Upendra Chivukula is the first South-Asian American in the 120-member state legislature and he is also the highest ranking South-Asian elected to office in New Jersey. He has been a member of the New Jersey state assembly since 2002. He is the first Indian-American to be elected to the New Jersey General Assembly and the fourth Indian-American to be elected to the state office. He has also been a recipient of awards including New Jersey Technology Council’s Legislative Advocate for Technology Award, NJ Small Business Development Centers’ Legislative Award, induction into the High-Tech Hall of Fame, New Jersey Policy Research Organization’s – Leader of Innovation, NJ Small Business Development Centers’ Legislator of the Year Award, NAACP Edison/Metuchen Branch – Adam Clayton Powell Award, and the ADL – Americanism Award.
This November, Latha Mangipudi won the special elections for State Representative in Hillsborough District 35 in New Hampshire by a margin of 59%-41%. She is a trained Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) by profession and she is known for her role in the field of education at Nashua, where she resides with her family. She also works with people with special needs and she is member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Town Councilman, entrepreneur, and business development executive Steve Rao emerged winner in the Morrisville City Council election in North Carolina this year. He is now the only Indian-American in the Council and was the only incumbent to return to office.