Bera’s Race Proves Changed Dynamics of Indian-American Voters

Must read

Phoenix, Arizona – In what was easily one of the most highly contested and controversial race during the 2014 Midterm elections, Dr. Ami Bera of California’s 7th Congressional District will retain his job after a narrow victory over Republican Doug Ose.

Akin to his previous election, Bera ended the victor in a vote count that took over two additional weeks following Election Day. As the only Indian-American in Congress, Bera’s victory bears good news for the diaspora, but shines pressure on Bera to make amends with the community to further the initiatives he has lamented of and laid out for the advancement of Indian-American interests in Congress.

As one of the most diverse congressional districts in the United States, Bera’s 7th Congressional District draws on voters from much of the eastern half of Sacremento County, where a relatively large number of Indian-Americans make up the constituency, and became an integral part of Bera’s political success. Whether in the form of votes or through canvassing, the backing from his diaspora will not remain automatic simply because of he identifies with community. With his freshman Congressional debut over, Bera’s time in Congress to distinguish himself from his peers in regards to success is now.

The Indian-American community has continuously been incorrectly subjugated to being an identical and politically synchronous diaspora, Indian-American voters are rapidly evolving from a heavily left-leaning group into a less partisan and diverse group of voters. No longer can Bera, or any political candidate assume that one of the fastest growing sects of Asian-Americans are a cohesive group of voters with similar views.

Despite representing 1% of the US population, the community is one of the wealthiest minority groups in the US, becoming a targeted source for political fundraising. With the funding, comes unprecedented activism, with more ethnically-oriented political action committees and candidates from the community contesting elections. Bera’s constituency, California’s 7th Congressional District features a particularly diverse community, of which we can assume Bera successfully drew a healthy amount of votes from.

As a first-generation American born to Guajarati parents, he could have easily counted on the votes from the Indian-American community as he did in the past two elections, and pundits and analysts alike wouldn’t have doubted it.

Yet, when Bera blatantly refused to answer two questions about the Indian government’s involvement in both perpetuating and covering up actions committed during the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots, he made a critical mistake to assume doing so wouldn’t mobilize what is becoming one of the most empowered lobbies in the United States-the Sikh lobby.

Both questions were fielded by the American Sikh Committee to Evaluate Congressional Candidates, a Sikh PAC that declined to endorse Bera, and in doing so, could vamp their efforts to unseat Bera in 2016.

Bera’s opponent, Republican Doug Ose sympathized with the group and rightly attributed the fault of the 1984 riots to government and political entities. Bera’s gaffe leaves him in an odd position should he remain a part of the young Sikh Caucus, which became the first religiously-based caucus in the history of the United States, and of which Bera jumped on board with despite contention from the Indian Government, which deemed the caucus to be representative of Khalistani separatists, a movement geared toward the creation of Sikh homeland inside of India, and a movement that has since faltered.

Ami Bera’s unique contribution to Congress is his advocacy for healthcare reform from a physician point-of-view, and a healthy relationship with the Modi Administration, is providing a profitable pathway for American interests in an emerging market that will likely undergo economic liberalization under the BJP leadership in India. Nonetheless, Bera’s staff failed to recognize that the modern Indian-American voters are divided by their state and religious allegiances, a trait that will pose difficulties for Indian-Americans candidate hopefuls to garner votes from their own community.

To be an Indian-American is no longer enough to convince the diaspora of your commitment to all Indians. Instead, an attitude Bera’s decision to deliberately invoke anger in a community that has been behind him should easily integrate into a Republican strategy to thwart his commitment to the interests of Indian-Americans.

To refuse to answer two widely known and indisputable facts proves Bera’s commitment to serve the Government of India before the United States and the array of benefits that Bera can reap from solidarity with a BRIC country that has a larger net benefit than serving the people of his constituency, the job for which he may have won in 2014, but will have to fight for in two years’ time.

Arman Sidhu
+ posts

Arman Sidhu is a political commentator based in Phoenix, Arizona, covering topics related to Indian foreign policy, domestic politics, and the Indian-American diaspora. He is a researcher at Arizona State University and a former Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.

More articles

Latest article