Indian diaspora to help Biden create the ‘New America’

Over 20 Indian origin Americans in Biden’s team

Diaspora

December 21, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Indian diaspora to help Biden create the ‘New America’

Biden has selected a cross-section of diverse, multiracial talent representing the country’s changing demographics

The transition team of United States President-elect Joe Biden includes over 20 Indian Americans, a record.

After weeks of efforts by US President Donald Trump to overturn the result, the electoral college last week affirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 American election. With that, the focus is set to shift to the incoming team nominated by Biden to help run a country that has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, hit hard by the subsequent economic downturn and left deeply divided by the outgoing president.

As Indian-origin senator Kamala Harris readies to take over as the Vice President of the United States, representation of the community in US politics has been put under significant limelight. However, Harris will not be the only Indian-American in President Joe Biden’s administration when he takes over the White House in January 2021.

In his speeches, Biden has pledged that his team would look like the real America – and he is staying true to his word in selecting a cross-section of diverse, multiracial talent representing the country’s changing demographics. Indians make up almost 1.5 pc of the total population in the US but when it comes to US President-Elect Joe Biden’s administration, Indians seem to be at the forefront.

The long list of Indian Americans in Biden’s team starts with his running mate Kamala Harris who will be the first Indian, Asian American & woman to become the Vice President of the United States. The most high-profile name after Harris is Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget.

The list also includes several Indian-American doctors on Biden’s Covid-19 task force likely to head major departments in a cabinet that the incoming president has promised will be the most diverse yet.

Here are the Indian-Americans playing roles, either as part of the transition or in the incoming administration.

Vivek Murthy

As the co-chairperson of the President-elect’s Covid-19 task force, Dr Vivek Murthy is one of the highest-ranked Indian-Americans among Biden’s advisory boards. He has also been appointed to serve as the Surgeon General of the United States under the Biden administration – a post he has held previously too. Murthy was the 19th Surgeon General of the United States from 2014-2017, the first person of Indian origin to be appointed to the position. In the past, he has also commanded a uniformed service of 6,600 public health officers globally as the Vice-Admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Murthy’s appointment as the co-chief of Biden’s Covid-19 task force was hailed as a “remarkable moment in America’s history” by Sanjeev Joshipura, national director of Indians for Biden National Council, Medical Dialogues, a medical magazine, reported. Murthy will be the co-chairperson of Biden’s Covid-19 task force alongside Dr David Kessler and Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith.

Atul Gawande

Assisting Murthy, Kessler, and Nunez-Smith in their efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the US will be a team of healthcare professionals, including Dr Atul Gawande, another person of Indian origin. Apart from being a surgeon and a professor, Gawande has also been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1998.

Gawande was born to immigrant doctor parents of Marathi origin and grew up in Ohio’s Athens town. Apart from graduating from the Harvard Medical School, he also spent time at Oxford University in the United Kingdom studying philosophy and politics as a Rhodes scholar.

Gawande’s association with politics goes way back in time. In the past, he has worked in the field of healthcare policy with Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper, and was also an integral part of former US President Bill Clinton’s healthcare task force. Gawande currently works as a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Celine Gounder

Dr Celine Gounder is another Indian-American who will be a part of Biden’s Covid-19 task force. As with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Gounder has mixed ethnic roots – her father, Dr Raj Natarajan Gounder, hailed from a village in Erode district of Tamil Nadu. He moved to the US in the 1960s and married a French citizen in 1972.

, Deccan Herald reported. Chennai-based newspaper DT Next reported that Raj Natarajan Gounder was an aerospace engineer and the first person from his village to earn a college degree.

Gounder is an expert on infectious diseases and HIV and dons multiple other roles too – she heads a non-profit multimedia organisation and also hosts a podcast on health and social justice. The doctor has first-hand experience of handling another pandemic too – in 2015, she volunteered as an Ebola aid worker in Guinea. Apart from Ebola, and now Covid-19, Gounder has studied tuberculosis and HIV in South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Brazil. In 2017, Gounder was included in People Magazine’s list of “25 women changing the world”. Gounder’s appointment to Biden’s Covid-19 task force was hailed by several politicians in Tamil Nadu.

Arun Majumdar

Scientist and professor Arun Majumdar has been nominated by Biden to lead the Department of Energy review team. The 21-member team will also review the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Majumdar is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay where he received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1985. He then completed his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989.

Majumdar is a professor at Standford University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. He is also a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, US National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In October 2009, Majumdar was nominated by former President of the US Barack Obama to become the Founding Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, where he served till June 2012. He has also worked as the Vice President for Energy at Google where he focussed on the intersection of data, computing and electricity grid.

Rahul Gupta

Dr Rahul Gupta is leading the Office of National Drug Control Policy transition team in the Biden-Harris administration. Gupta is the senior vice president and chief medical officer of March of Dimes, a non-profit organisation that works to improve the health of mothers and babies. Gupta was born in India and studied medicine at the University of Delhi, and then went on to complete his internship and residency at St Joseph Hospital, Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Gupta’s claim to fame was West Virginia’s opioid crisis response when he worked as the state’s chief health officer from 2015-2018.

Kiran Ahuja

Lawyer and activist Kiran Ahuja will head the Office of Personnel Management transition team, which will also review the Office of Government Ethics, the Office of Special Counsel, the Administrative Conference of the United States, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Federal Thrift Retirement Investment Board.

Ahuja grew up in Savannah, Georgia as an Indian immigrant. She was appointed as the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2009.

Ahuja is well-known for her work in improving the lives of women of colour. She also served as the founding executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum from 2003-2008.

Other Indian-Americans

Apart from these, quite a few Indian Americans have made it to the transition teams as members. A few of them include Bhavya Lal who will be a part of the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration teams, Puneet Talwar in the Department of State team, Pav Singh in the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy team, Arun Venkataraman in the Department of Commerce, Office of the United States Trade Representative teams, and Aneesh Chopra in the United States Postal Service team.

Mala Adiga

Indian-American Mala Adiga has been selected as the policy director for soon-to-be First Lady Jill Biden, making her yet another person of Indian descent to be appointed to a position of importance in President Biden’s administration. She was also a senior policy advisor to President-elect Biden’s 2020 election campaign.

Jill Biden is an educator, and Adiga has experience overseeing a wide range of international educational programs in the US, including the Fulbright and Gilman Programs.

Adiga’s father Ramesh Adiga had arrived in the United States from Udupi, Karnataka, as a vascular surgeon when he was 25. Her mother Jaya Adiga studied medicine in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. Adiga belongs to the family of former chairman of Karnataka Bank K Suryanarayana Adiga, and is also related to Man Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga.

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