Harris' vice presidential nomination is tagged with many firsts -- she is the first Indian American and also the first African American to be chosen as the running mate of a major party's presidential candidate.
US Senator Kamala Harris’ nomination as the vice presidential candidate is a “historic moment” but it is not a surprise at all, her proud uncle said here on Wednesday. Gopalan Balachandran, Harris’ maternal uncle, said she will script many firsts if she wins and expressed the hope her top-level position will give Indians in the US “greater access” in interacting with the US administration.
“I am feeling very proud. Our family is feeling very proud. And if her mother was alive today, she would have felt supremely proud as she had tremendous influence on Kamala’s life and career. But when her name came up, I wasn’t surprised at all,” Balachandran told PTI.
“This is a historic moment and her life trajectory will inspire many from India to America. Her education and understanding of ground realities will hold her in good stead,” he said.
Joe Biden has picked the 55-year-old lawyer and moderate Democratic politician, born to Donald Harris from Jamaica and Shyamala Gopalan from India, as his vice presidential candidate, prompting celebrations among the Indian American community in the US and at the south Delhi home of her uncle many thousand miles away.
At Balachandran’s house ‘Kamakshi’ in Malviya Nagar, journalists queued up to interview him about the accomplishments of his niece and congratulatory phone calls and messages poured in. The excitement in the neighbourhood was evident too.
“Kamala’s victory will inspire more people in the Indian-American community in the US to take up leadership roles in politics. And I hope it will also lend greater access to Indians in interacting with the US administration,” said the former journalist.
The 79-year-old said he had sent a congratulatory message to his niece. “I have also written in my message, ‘think what will Shyamala say’,” Balachandran said, remembering his late sister who died in 2009. Harris came to India to immerse her mother’s ashes in the Bay of Bengal, keeping up with the family tradition.
Shyamala went to pursue a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, at a very young age, America was seeing its own counterculture movement, and Shyamala took part in that civil rights agitation and met her future husband there, Balachandran recalled. They were four siblings, Balachandran said. Shyamala was the oldest, followed by him and two more sisters. Their father P V Gopalan was a government official who was involved in the rehabilitation of refugees from East Pakistan to India.
Talking about his sister and their family with roots in Tamil Nadu Balachandran said she was an achiever who finished her PhD in the US when she was only 25. “She did her bachelor’s from Lady Irwin College, Delhi University, and went to the US. Shyamala made us proud and now my niece has,” said Balachandran, who earned his PhD in economics and computer science from the University of Wisconsin. Continuing where her mother left off perhaps, Harris, too, participated in apartheid protests during her college days at Howard University.
“Kamala knows her multi-ethnic routes, drawn from India and Jamaica, and she has learned values from all her ethnic roots, but she calls herself a proud American. It’s her mother who continues to guide her. Whatever she (Kamala) does today, she still thinks of what her mother would say,” he added.
Harris’ vice presidential nomination is tagged with many firsts — she is the first Indian American and also the first African American to be chosen as the running mate of a major party’s presidential candidate. Asked what her possible win might bring to Indo-US ties, Balachandran said, “Her win will be historic, but I don’t think there is anything new that will be brought to the table at the presidential or vice-presidential level.”
On the recent Black Lives Matter movement in the US and his niece’s days at Howard University, he said, “She has always stood for civil rights.”
Describing Harris as a fighter, he said the entire police community was against her when she was running for the district attorney’s office for her stand against capital punishment. But she stood her ground. She has firm resolve and she’s a fighter.”
Harris has written about the influence her mother had on her in her memoir The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. She also describes her grandfather as one of the earliest and most lasting influences in her life. Asked about Harris’ hobbies, Balachandran said she likes music and reading books and understands quite a bit of Tamil.
Former president Barack Obama, who served in the White House with Biden for two terms, has said he has known the California politician for a long time. “She is more than prepared for the job. She’s spent her career defending our Constitution and fighting for folks who need a fair shake,” the first Black-American president said.