Obama victory infuses fresh hope in overseas Indians (Diaspora Watch)

November 17th, 2008 - 10:03 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaIf Barack Obama can win the highest office in the US against all odds, so can many overseas Indians. This is the overwhelming feeling of overseas Indians in the aftermath of the election of the first African American and non-white person as the next US president.Sant Chatwal, a major fundraiser for the Obama campaign, said this victory gives him the hope to aspire for the highest office in the US.

Bobby Jindal, a former US Congressman and current Republican governor of Louisiana, has already raised these hopes of an Indian American reaching the White House in future and now the strong support of the Indian Americans working and fundraising in the Obama campaign means that this community can also organise a similar all-out effort for one of its own candidates in future, said Mike Verma from New York.

Shamlal Puri, a London-based author and journalist, said that now one can imagine a Sikh from Southall becoming the prime minister of Britain. Many British Indians, like Keith Vaz, a native of Goa, have been active MPs for decades and also served as ministers. Now the time has come to move up the political ladder, he added.

After last month’s election of eight Indians to the Canadian parliament, and after several Indians serving as ministers there, the Obama victory shows the way to the office of the Canadian prime minister in the not too distant future.

In Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore, Indians have already occupied the highest public offices including the office of the president, overseas Indians view this victory as yet another achievement of their global community.

It’s the same story in Malaysia where a number of Indians have served as ministers after being elected to parliament.

As Obama’s father was from Kenya, Indian Kenyans are ecstatic about his victory, considering him as one of their own. However, they cannot hope for the top office in the county as no Kenyan Indian has been elected to parliament in the last few elections -although soon after independence in 1962, an Indian was elected as speaker and another an assistant minister for tourism.

While an Indian MP was elected MP in the 1970s, the Indian community in Kenya abandoned all hopes after repeated defeats at the polls since then.

Talking about improving Indo-US relations, Anil Madan, a senior lawyer from Boston, said: “In a way, (late prime minister) Indira Gandhi set the stage for distancing India from the US. Much of that has changed. If a guy like George W. Bush can forge a more cordial relationship with India - albeit from concerns born of national security and terrorism containment - why would Obama seek to chill them?”

What is in store for Indians in the US under the Obama presidency?

C.K. Sharma from the US replied: “On immigration, taxes, jobs, business… I feel that there would really be no perceptible effect on the American Indians. After all, this is just politics. Republicans or Democrats, they have their task cut out of running the US in the best possible manner, as they see it; and this does not really affect any particular community over here.

“Now, if you are talking of Indians who keep coming to the US on the H1 or whatever visa, that could be a different matter. Whether it would have been McCain or Obama, both would be forced to protect their citizens from being laid off due to this economic slide. Can’t blame either for that, can you?”

On the sticky question of outsourcing, Madan does not think that Obama is talking about reducing outsourcing to India.

“He did make a comment about Hillary Clinton way back when but I think he has learned from the experience. What he has said is that he wants to end tax breaks to companies that export jobs. That’s a little different from outsourcing, especially where you cannot find the skill-sets necessary for a particular job in the US.

“Also, if a US company merely contracts with another company to provide services, there’s not much even a president can do to stop it. His top priority is fixing the US economy and that’s a tall order.”

Said Kersi Rustomji from Jindera, Australia: “Obama’s election would affect both the domestic and global business in that it may buoy up the current financial downward trends, but unless a global financial overhaul is established, and which is very much overdue, the office of the US president will have only a small bearing on businesses worldwide. The global trade does not operate on the persona of the US president but the very convoluted and artificial tie-up with the US dollar.”

In any case, with Obama as US president-elect, a glass ceiling has been smashed not only for African Americans but for all Indian Americans and overseas Indians; “and our time has come”, said Shamlal Puri.

And about time too.

(Kul Bhushan previously worked as a newspaper editor in Nairobi, Kenya and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: kulbhushan2040@gmail.com)

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