| Harjit Singh, in his Stars-and-Stripes turban, at the Democratic National Convention in Boston last Wednesday. (Reuters)
Boston, Aug. 1: Meet Madhuri Kommareddi, 21, from Chicago. She is the new face of Indian political activism in America.
On Thursday night, as John Kerry accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination to contest for America’s 44th presidency, Kommareddi — who graduated from Northwestern University in Illinois only in June — was among the thousands of cheering, singing, dancing, delegates to the party’s national convention at the Fleet Center here.
So was Harjit Singh of Hershey, Pennsylvania. His face was repeatedly beamed on virtually all American television networks during prime-time on Thursday night because of his trademark Sikh turban from Stars and Stripes, America’s national flag.
Singh became a potent symbol of this country’s inclusiveness at the convention, only days after a brutal attack on a Sikh in New York drew national attention as a hate crime.
Repeatedly, Sikhs have been attacked in the US since September 11 as many Americans mistake their turbans for some connection with the turbaned images of Osama bin Laden.
If Singh and Kommareddi represented two of the more visible Indian-American faces at Fleet Center, their presence in Kerry’s campaign as it worked its way towards the high point was unprecedented.
According to the roll call of delegates at the convention, compiled by Alice Germond, secretary of the Democratic National Committee, there were 37 South Asians who attended the convention as delegates, alternate delegates or as delegates at large, most of them of Indian origin.
Except for a handful, all of them were attending the convention for the first time, indicating a rising level of participation by Indians in America’s political process.
Seniormost among these Indian-American Democrats was Rajen Anand, who has been a Democrat in California for 21 years and served on the party’s executive board for two terms of two years each, two terms on its platform committee and is the only Indian to have headed the party’s Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus.
A delegate to every Democratic national convention since 1988, Anand was appointed by President Bill Clinton as head of the department of agriculture’s Centre for Nutrition Policy during his eight-year presidency. He is now professor of psychology at California State University.
Kumar Barve, the leader of the Democratic Party in Maryland state Assembly, had the influential role of vice-chairman of the rules committee of the convention.
Swati Dandekar, a first-time member of the House of Representatives in Iowa, was a parliamentarian at the convention: that meant she was on the podium, where parliamentarians are called upon to settle any procedural disputes.
There was also Satveer Chaudhary, Minnesota’s state Senator and Upendra Chivukula, a member of the state legislative assembly in New Jersey.
The most active Indian-American in Boston throughout the convention, though, was Ramesh Kapur. He is from Medford in Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts and has been playing a major role in crucial fund-raising efforts for Kerry since he declared his intention to fight for the presidency.
He coordinated numerous Indian-American and South Asian events during the four-day convention, including a link up between Indian-Americans and Jewish Americans.