Indian-American Seema Nanda Appointed CEO of the Democratic National Committee

On June 29, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced the appointment of Seema Nanda, an Indian American executive, as its incoming CEO. Nanda will take over the position from Mary Beth Cahill, the DNC’s interim CEO, later this month.

The search for the DNC’s new CEO started after former chief executive Jess O’Connell left the organization in January. After a lengthy search, the DNC tapped on the talents of Seema Nanda, who will be departing her current role as the executive vice president and COO at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Interim CEO, Mary Beth Cahill said that Nanda undoubtedly fit the bill as the next Chief executive of the DNC. “With Seema joining our senior leadership team, I know that the DNC will be in good hands,” she said.

A graduate of Boston College Law School and Brown University, Nanda is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association. She has previously worked with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor. At the Department of Labor, Nanda served as DNC chair Tom Perez’ chief of staff.

In a press statement, Perez said that he was confident that Nanda’s leadership will capitalize on the grassroots energy and enthusiasm of party contests in the coming elections. “I’m beyond excited that Seema is bringing her talent and brilliance to the DNC,” said DNC Chair Tom Perez. “I’ve seen first-hand Seema’s exceptional ability to lead. She is a seasoned manager who has a proven track record of success and well-documented history of fighting for our Democratic values, whether it’s on immigration, civil rights or leveling the playing field for our workers.”

Nanda stated that she was humbled and honored by the appointment. “People are hurting all across our country. And I believe that Democrats are offering the positive solutions so desperately-needed right now – solutions forged by the strength of our diversity, the rigor of our ideas, and the decency of our values. I am grateful to Chairman Perez and Mary Beth for selecting me, and I look forward to joining my new DNC colleagues in the fight for our nation’s values and future.” Nanda said in a press release.

Nanda’s appointment as the DNC’s chief executive is a reiteration of the fact that Indian – Americans are becoming more politically active. A record number of Indian – Americans are running for public offices in 2018.

USINPAC is current reaching out to Seema Nanda’s team to try and schedule an interview. We believe that Nanda’s new position as CEO of the DNC is further proof that Indian-Americans are rising within politics, and USINPAC is committed to keeping up to date with the latest Indian-American political news.

The Elephant in the Room: India’s Relations with South Asia

To say that India’s relationship with its neighbors has never been fraught with tension, would be an understatement. While India has been a major power in South Asia due to its strategic position, China’s increasing presence and influence in South Asia has led to concerns about New Delhi’s rising presence in the region. Another important player in South Asia—the United States—has its own concerns about China and considers India as an important strategic partner.

India – U.S. relations have recently turned sour on matters of trade. Furthermore, several South Asian countries have been strengthening their relationship with China. In an interview with Akshobh Giridharadas, a consultant with the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, USINPAC discussed India’s foreign policy vis-à-vis its neighbors and analyzed the U.S. – India relationship and its impact on India’s diplomatic position in South Asia.

India’s Foreign Policy Vis-à-Vis its Neighbors

The Modi Doctrine or the Foreign Policy of the Modi government, has had its fair share of ups and downs. Recent events in the Maldives, as well as Nepal’s overtures to China, have concerned India watchers, who believe that Indian influence is being challenged in its own neighborhood. However, the picture is much more complicated.

Akshobh Giridharadas explains that although there have been several challenges in India’s foreign policy towards its neighboring countries, the Modi Government has been cognizant of the importance of India’s neighborhood. “One of the things that Modi mentioned was that neighborhood was his first priority,” Girdharadas said, “Modi’s first visits after taking office were to Nepal and Bhutan and not to the US or the UK.”

However, Giridharadas stressed that the Indo-Nepal Relationship does require special care. He said that India and Nepal’s relationship is often overlooked for several reasons. First and foremost, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is one of the least integrated areas in the world. An economic and geopolitical union of South Asian nations, SAARC has been encumbered by water disputes, trade disputes and even problems of security. India and Nepal, both happen to be members of SAARC. Furthermore, the presence of nuclear states such as Pakistan and China, in India’s neighborhood often overshadows other relations.

Although India’s foreign policy may understand the importance of its neighborhood, it does not always cater to them. “It is often said that SAARC as a region is very big brother dominated neighborhood and smaller countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives don’t necessarily get a chance to voice their concerns,” Girdharadas said.

“In this context, India’s relationship with Nepal is often haloed, and it looks like everything is going very well, although the relationship with Nepal needs special care,” Giridharadas said.

Giridharadas also talked about India’s relationship with its other neighbors including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. He commented that although India and Sri Lanka have a special relationship, recent and past events, such as the new Chinese ran Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, have affected the relationship. Giridharadas also noted that under the Awami League, Bangladesh has pursued closer relations with India. However, the Indo-Bangladesh dispute over sharing the waters of transboundary river Teesta caused an “overall belief that India needs to engage more with Bangladesh,” Giridharadas stated.

The Dragon in the Room

The importance of Chinese influence in South Asia cannot be underestimated, neither can the importance of India’s relationship with China. Both countries are rapidly growing economies, members of the G20, and both are nuclear powers. Additionally, “Modi and Xi are some of the most popular and influential leaders in India and China respectively.” Giridharadas said, “So, both Modi and Xi have been making their presence felt on the foreign stage.”

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been very keen on pursuing closer economic ties with China. Giridharadas looked back on Modi’s visits to China when he was still the Chief Minister of Gujarat. As the Chief Minister, Modi visited several Chinese provinces and invited several Chinese companies to contribute to his Vibrant Gujarat Summits. However, other aspects of the Sino-Indo relationship have made New Delhi wary of Beijing. “Of course you have the Doklam standoff of 2017, which evoked memories of the 1962 war.” Giridharadas said, “ Thus, there has been an overhanging cloud as to whether China can be trusted.”

India has been very concerned about China’s Belt and Road Initiative and a Chinese “String of Pearls” The String of Pearls theory refers to a network of Chinese developed and run facilities in strategic locations in the Indian Ocean. The Hambantota Port is seen as one such strategic facility. Another controversial project, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through the contentious Kashmir region.
Girdharadas noted that while New Delhi is not too happy with the China – Pakistan collusively, India has its own trade relations and barriers with China. Furthermore, “the Wuhan summit has helped in resetting the relationship.” Giridharadas said.

India’s willingness to work on Sino-Indian ties was demonstrated during the Shangri La Summit. “Even though James Mattis tore into China during the Shangri – La summit, Modi reiterated that he was optimistic about working with China,” Girdharadas said.

Where does the U.S. Fit In?

In addition to big brothers like China and India, South Asia has been of considerable interest to the United States as well. “The U.S. looks at India as a democratic counterweight to China, even though experts in India and China do not see India as a counterweight to China in the same sense,” Giridharadas said. Giridharadas expanded on this by explaining that the foreign policy coming out of India has always included unilateral engagement with everyone, including countries such as the United States, China, and Russia without being subversive to anyone. In fact, India has always been wary of power blocs given its legacy of the Non-Alignment Movement. “The fact that India is developing its unilateral relationship with China should not be seen as a snub to America and vice-versa,” Giridharadas said.

However, the U.S.-India trade relations have been frosty, but Girdharadas believes that matters of trade aside, the U.S. continues to view India as a strong strategic partner since both countries share some common ideas, concerns, and democratic ideals and values as well. Giridharadas stated the example of Canada and the recent U.S.-Canada trade disputes. “It is not a Washington-Delhi problem, but a Washington problem,” Giridharadas said. “Yes, India and the U.S. will disagree on various aspects of trade, but this will not stop a robust India – US relationship.”

India and the U.S. have become increasingly concerned about China’s influence in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific. Other common interests include security and defense. Thus, in recent years India has been purchasing more weapons and increasing military cooperation with the U.S.

Giridharadas credited the Indian diplomacy for maintaining a strong U.S.-India relationship. “India’s diplomacy has always been that we will work with whoever is in power and it is a credit to them and Prime Minister Modi that they have continued to work very well with the US under two very different administrations – i.e., the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration,” Giridharadas said.

An improved US- India relationship and India’s Neighborhood

Having a paramount relationship with the U.S. can definitely help India gain diplomatic ground in its neighborhood, especially amongst smaller countries in the region. However, Giridharadas cautioned that a strong U.S.-India relationship would propel Pakistan closer to China.

“There is a saying, ‘Everyone wants the U.S. as its friends, but no one wants China as its enemy,” Girdhardas said. Yet, the Indian diplomacy has the potential to dispel tensions with China caused by a close U.S.-India strategic partnership. India believes in unilateral engagement with everyone in the region without compromising on its own interests.

“There will be no adverse effects or long-term setbacks to the strategic partnership between the U.S. and India,” Giridharadas said.

Akshobh Giridharadas is a consultant for the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. A journalist by profession, Giridharadas was based out of Singapore as a reporter and producer with Channel News Asia, Singapore covering international business news. He writes on diverse topics such as geopolitics, business, tech and sports. His previous endeavors include working at ESPN STAR and FOX networks. He is a TEDx and Toastmasters public speaker and is currently at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts specializing in international affairs.

Spouses of H1-B Visas May Be Without Jobs Soon

Last week USINPAC covered the problem many Indian-American children face with aging out of their H-4 visas before their high-skilled professional parents can gain green card status. Unfortunately, spouses of H1-B visa holders who hold H4 EAD visas may also start facing problems soon because of the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order President Trump signed April of last year to protect the interest of US workers while also preventing fraud or abuse of working visas. With the “Buy American and Hire American” order signed, the Department of Homeland Security has stated plans to end the H4 EAD work permit program to comply with President Trump’s executive order.

The H4 EAD work permit program was put into place by President Obama in 2015 to allow spouses of high-skilled workers to seek and hold employment of their own. Since 2015 there have been a little over 100,000 H4 EAD visas given out, mostly to women, but currently, only 41,500 holders of H4 EAD visas are in the workforce. With H4 EAD visa holders just making up 3 percent of the total amount of foreign workers with visas, it seems more like a form of bullying on the Department of Homeland Security’s part than trying to prevent fraud or abuse of the system. Over half of the owners of H4 EAD visas are not currently in the workforce, and with the other 41,500 making up only 3 percent of foreign workers with visas, it seems like there is little fraudulent or abusive activity going on.

With the current labor shortage in the United States, H4 EAD visa holders should be welcomed, not prevented from working. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are currently 6.7 million unfilled positions in the United States and an unemployment rate of just 3.8 percent. H4 EAD visa holders are not “stealing” jobs from Americans, they are helping fill in spots where labor is needed. Taking the ability for spouses of H1-B visas away will hurt families and may cause some to have to rethink settling in the United States for financial reasons.

Taking away the ability to work for H4 EAD visa holders seems to be more of a ply for praise from the Trump administration rather than complying with the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order. A small group of working immigrants and their families will be hurt if the Department of Homeland Security follows through with putting an end to allowing spouses of highly-skilled workers to gain a working visa of their own.

Department of Homeland Security was supposed to have a ruling about the H4 EAD visas by June 2018, but as June has come and gone H4 EAD visa holders continue to wait as their fate is decided for them.