Mangaluru: The small Indian-American community – constituting just about one per cent of the US population – never had it so good as under the Obama Administration, with a record number of community members being roped in to head top administrative positions. President Barack Obama recognizing the immense talent and potential of this community numbering about 3.1 million, not only appointed a record number of Indian-Americans to his administration, but also there is hardly any major wing of the US government ranging from his own White House to departments of State, Treasury, Defense and Commerce that some of the key positions are not being held by an Indian-American.
While there is no official or unofficial figure of the number of Indian-Americans appointed by Obama in his administration, it is estimated it could easily be at least a few dozens or even touch the half a century mark. This is a far cry from the US President Ronald Reagan Administration when the first Indian Americans was appointed to a senior administration post to his administrations. In 1987, Reagan appointed Joy Cherian to Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. He later on went on to become its Commissioner from 1990 to 1994. And in 1990, Sambhu Banik, a Bethesda psychologist, was appointed as executive director of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation.
Indian Americans have come a long way since then and have traveled quite a distance under the Obama Administration. Obama, who became the first African American to have been elected as US President, appointed Raj Shah, as administrator of USAID – the highest ranking Indian American in any administration; Vinai Thummalapally, the US Ambassador to Belize, became the first Indian-American Ambassador in the US history; Highly talented, Vikram Singh in his capacity as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia (SSEA) is the highest ranking Indian American official in the Pentagon.
The anti-terrorism and anti-Wall Street crusade of Preet Bharara, the US Attorney, who is another Obama appointee, is well known; Subra Suresh in his capacity as Director of the National Science Foundation, the agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through research programs and education projects, overseas billions of dollars in scientific research.
Obama had appointed Paula Gangopadhyay Member of the prestigious National Museum and Library Services Board, and Sonny Ramaswamy; Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA); Romesh Wadhwani was appointed board of trustees of John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. Anuj C Desai, Associate Professor of Law at University of Wisconsin Law School, was appointed by Obama as member of the Foreign Claims Settlement Committee.
And this is not a comprehensive list of Indian Americans serving in the Obama Administration. Quite a number of them having served in the Obama Administration had decided to either join the private sector or work for his re-election campaign like popular Indian-American actor Kal Penn, or to chart their own political career like Vivek Kundra, who served for more than two years as the first chief information officer of the United States. Kal Penn left his lucrative career in Hollywood to serve as the Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. And then he quit the White House to play a key role Obama’s victory by mobilising the country’s youth in the run up to the presidential elections.
Richard Verma; the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, at the US Department of State until March 2011 and Neera served as senior advisor for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, advising Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and working on Obama’s health reform team in the White House to pass the bill. Both Verma and Tanden have joined the Center for American Progress – an eminent Washington-based think tank. Verma was one of the key foreign policy surrogates for the Obama Campaign.
Ro Khanna spent two years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and has written a book “Entrepreneurial Nation” after leaving the administration; and Suresh Kumar served for two years as the Assistant Commerce Secretary for Trade Promotion and Director-General of the US Foreign Commercial Service. His son Aditya Kumar served at the White House as the Deputy Assistant to the Vice President and Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff. Anil Kakani, who served as Senior Advisor for India at the US Department of Treasury for nearly two-and- a-half years, was possibly the only Indian-American in the Obama Administration to move to India to join the private sector.
Added to above list and many more in his administration, Barack Obama had appointed Mangaluru origin Shilpa Hegde, as White House Senior Assistant Staff Secretary, and during Obama’s historic three-day visit to India which concluded yesterday, Hegde had accompanied the US President aboard Air Force One. Shilpa Hegde has served in the White House in that position for many years.
Although her parents hail from Mangaluru, Shilpa was brought up in America, where she graduated in Law education, and later was a strong supporter of the Democratic Party. Shilpa played a key role in the ‘Obama for America’, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008 in North Carolina-USA. Later in the years, she worked as a research analyst with the Atlas Project and as the assistant director in the White House. Serving as the Assistant Staff Secretary in the White House for two years, in July 2014 she was promoted to the level of Senior Assistant Staff Secretary.
Shilpa Hegde is the daughter of Vidya Hegde and Dr Sadananda Hegde, an old-student of Kasturba Medical College/Hospital, and also the brother of B Vasanthi S Shetty, former HoD of OBG department, K S Hegde Hospital in Deralakatte. It is learnt that Dr Sadananda Hegde is a renowned physician in the US, and Shilpa makes frequent visits to Mangaluru/Udupi when she comes down to India along with her parents.