New York: “In the early 80s, there were two city council members from the Indian American community in small towns – a remarkable achievement then. From those days we have traveled a long way to win many positions in several states, including the vice presidency of the US,” said Dr. Thomas Abraham, founder president and currently Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), at a celebration honoring the newly elected members to various state legislatures. The event, held on Zoom, was hosted by GOPIO chapters (Manhattan, New York, Central New York, Connecticut, Central Jersey and Virginia) in collaboration with the Indian American Impact Fund (IMPACT). The program was streamed live though The Indus TV, PIO TV and UNI TV to all over the world.
Two Republicans and 13 Democrats elected from 11 state legislatures recounted their experiences. Former Kansas State Representative Raj Goyle, a co-founder of IMPACT, was the moderator.
Rep. Goyle said he feels he was elected 10,000 years ago in 2006 when he was 31. It is an emotional thing to get elected, he said, pointing out that there were about 10 Indian families in the district at that time.
Goyle said the community worked for the level of success reached this year. “We expected it,” he said, adding that the IMPACT fund raised $10 million for the campaigns.
Impact Executive Director Neil Makhija provided information on the functioning of IMPACT suggested potential candidates to fill up the form at the IMPACT website.
Deepak Raj, the other IMPACT co-founder, said he met Goyle in 2008 and discussed ways to get more Indians elected. Soon IMPACT was born. He pointed out that the Democratic Party has understood the influence of the Indian American community.
Goyle also noted that Raj, an entrepreneur wrote the first check for the organization and continued to support the organization over the years.
“As a broad-based community organization, we at GOPIO want to provide a bipartisan platform to bring all statewide Indian American elected lawmakers, and we are hoping that this will motivate more Indian Americans to join the political leadership process – especially young Indian Americans,” Abraham said.
Dr. Nikil Saval, Democrat, a writer and community organizer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, described his fight in the Senate District 1 to dislodge a three-term incumbent while Niraj Antani, 29, a Republican who in 2014 became the youngest member of the Ohio State House and has been elected this year as Ohio’s first Indian American state senator – from District 6 described the journey his parents took from India and his own achievements.
Attorney and professor Jay Chaudhuri, a Democrat who in 2016 became the first Indian American to become a state senator in North Carolina, spoke about his work and the voters’ confidence in him that saw him re-elected to a third term.
Immigration attorney Nima Kulkarni, Democrat, who was elected to Kentucky House from the 40th District, said there are only a handful of Indians in the constituency. She defeated a 22-year incumbent.
Ranjeev Puri noted his Sikh heritage and his plans to work to improve the life of his constituents.
Jenifer Rajkumar, 38, Democrat, an attorney and professor, noted a few records she created. She is the first South Asian woman and Hindu elected to the New York State House. She defeated a 11-year incumbent. She said the role of government has become more important in crises like the pandemic.
Latha Mangipudi, a Democrat elected to New Hampshire House’s 35th District for a fifth term, noted the help GOPIO and IMPACT gave her in her campaign. She also coined the term ‘Idli Caucus’ to describe South Indian representatives and promised to cook Mysore Masala Dosas for visitors.
Kesha Ram, Democrat, the first woman of color elected to Vermont State House and later Senate noted her Hindu/Jewish ancestry. She became a House Representative in 2008 when she was only 21 years old. She thanked Latha Mangipudi for the help and support.
Dr. Amish Shah, a Democrat re-elected to Arizona State House, joined the meeting in scrubs since he was working at the hospital. His district includes parts of Phoenix. He spoke about his work for the community and also how the state is changing from red to blue.