Aruna Miller, Democratic legislator in Maryland, and Republican senator Wayne Harper at the American Center on Tuesday. Picture by Sanat Kr. Sinha
It is not easy being a Republican these days. You may have to spend a lot of time defending Donald Trump, even if you are 14,000km from home.
This is what Wayne Harper, senator, State of Utah, had to do at the American Center in Calcutta on Tuesday evening, where he faced reporters along with Democratic representative Aruna Miller, state legislator, Maryland, his co-visitor to the city and political adversary. They were visiting India to talk about the American elections that will choose the new President on November 8. Their conversation ended up as a little Democratic-Republican debate.
Not surprisingly, it opened on the matter of immigration. Miller, in keeping with old-world courtesy, was asked to speak first. This she did by launching straight away into the American Dream, which is very different from Trump's. Among other things, Trump had recently declared that, if elected President, he would build a wall to stop Mexicans from coming into America.
Miller, who has been serving as state legislator since 2011, said she was born in India, in Hyderabad, but welcomed as a child by America, which allows one to live one's dream. In America anyone can be successful. "The US is not so much as a place as an idea," said Miller, whose party's nominee in the presidential poll is Hillary Clinton.
Attractive, articulate and successful, Miller seemed to be an embodiment of the idea herself.
The main concern of a people like the Indian community in the US, as it faces the elections now, Miller said, was Trump's "anti-immigrant rhetoric" that calls all Mexicans rapists, Muslims terrorists and women not being good enough for high offices.
Harper, who pointed out that Trump has won the highest number of primary votes within the Republican Party, had to agree that the Presidential candidate could be "rough and offensive" in his speech. "He believes what he is doing," said the senator.
Harper did not question the merit of Trump's strategies - for example, of his protectionism, which he said takes into account the competition to the US from outside as well as the imperative of being a part of the global community - but hoped that the next two months would see certain changes in Trump's delivery style. "He has to make people understand without (causing) offence," said Harper, whose political career spans 25 years.
Harper had also emphatically began his speech much like Miller, saying: "We are a country of immigrants."
On another point the two representatives agreed whole-heartedly. They expect these elections to have a much higher voter turn-out, because of the personalities and issues.
Miller, a passionate advocate of women's rights, said she has tried to push legislation for paid parental leave in her state. America remains one of the few countries in the world that does not guarantee paid maternal leave.
"Maternity is explained as a disability. But having a child is not a disability," she said. The only way a mother can take time off for her child is by taking sick or other kinds of leave. Women routinely suffer in the workplace after giving birth, in matters of promotion, responsibility and salary.
"But only females can bear children. And it's used against us," she said.
She has tried to get Maryland to approve not only paid maternal leave, but parental leave, for both mother and father.
For if women defer the decision to have children because of the workplace, or do not have children, and the birthrate declines, it leads to a feebler workforce and finally affects the economy, said Miller.
In Calcutta they visited Presidency University. Both Miller and Harper are taking back a lot of warmth from India, they said.