Ideological Impurities: BJP vs. the Republicans

Andrew Sullivan has a blog post comparing the Indian and U.S. political situations today, citing an anonymous reader. The reader’s main point is that the current infighting within the U.S. Republican party might be seen as resembling the BJP’s own internal chaos in India:

Perhaps the Democrats can look to India for reasons to be optimistic. At this time, the BJP is in electoral ruins, aided by their rank and honest fundamentalism. They’ve been smashed by Congress for two elections in a row and the report on Ayodhya is about as damning as can be. In response, the hardcore base is working to eliminate anyone who can lead them out of the wilderness. Just as in the GOP, this is done in a pursuit of ideological purity. The only difference is the religion being espoused. (link)

This seems like a viable parallel for a minute, but only for a minute. First, the recent report on Ayodhya, which I blogged about recently, doesn’t seem politically significant; it’s more of a symbolic event. As the reader continues, the parallel starts to seem really shaky:

The RSS, which provides the ideological grounding of Hindu nationalism, as well as a significant section of the ground game, has forced Jaswant Singh out for the simple act of praising the founder of Pakistan. They’ve warned all other moderates to basically shut up and toe the party line. No one seems to remember that the BJP became nationally popular thanks to a pragmatic program of economic growth, reducing corruption, and downplaying Hindutva. Again, the moderates in the party are bemoaning these trends, and warn that divisive communalism may lead to short term electoral gain, but will ultimately lead to total marginalization. No one is listening.

I question the reader’s understanding of what happened during the 1990s. Yes, the Congress Party was widely seen as deeply corrupt and incompetent after the disastrous decades of the 1970s and 1980s. But as I understand history, the BJP actually gained quite a bit of popular momentum in the late 1980s and early 1990s, specifically through communal rhetoric focused on issues such as the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and Shahbano. Continue reading

Let’s All Be Fair and Kind

A little bit of morning music Monday for your listening pleasure to lull you out of Thanksgiving/Eid stupor (h/t rockistani). Music courtesy of the band Fair and Kind.

Who is this dreamy music that we’re listening to?

During summer 2008, Arthi Meera went on a national tour as singer and keyboardist with the band 1997 (Victory Records). During an 11-week tour, Arthi and the band did 35 shows in 24 states, spanning the continental United States from Washington to California to Florida to New York.

> And in October 2008, Fair and Kind–the duo of Arthi and her brother, Anand Subramanian–released its debut CD, A Little Past Twilight. Arthi’s voice is clean and pure with zero vibrato. Anand’s voice is reminiscent of that of Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay, and the two siblings’ voices complement each other beautifully. [[fairandkind](] There’s also a cute story with how they came up with the name for the band… > > In the American TV show The Office, there’s an episode where Kelly invites the office staff to a Divali function. Michael Scott thinks it’s like Halloween, so his girlfriend wears a cheerleading costume. Kelly’s parents ask Michael whether she is his wife, and he says not yet. Then Kelly’s father says, “She’s very fair.” And Michael says, “Yeah, she’s very fair. And kind.” [[fairandkind](] Seems like they are also giving away a free song a month off of their website. Fair and Kind can now be found on Pandora and will be featured in the independent film “[Raspberry Magic](”. You can also follow Arthi Meera in [her solo project at her myspace page]( I’m really digging their chill vibe and will be using it as background music while I write, for sure. What do you think of their sound? Continue reading

Okay, Who Burned the Turkey?

Chaos. Every year my mother’s family in New Jersey carefully plans out a Thanksgiving Day menu and every year, without fail, everything falls apart. Today, I came in to find my 21-year old cousin in his pajamas, frying chicken and cursing up a storm. Beside him lay a pan of meatloaf, his entry in the informal cook-off between him and my little brother. (They both always win.) Moments later the smoke alarm rings out, someone’s casserole is burning. A burning smell fills the air. The sound sets the eight cousins under the age of 10 into a tizzy, they swarm around the kitchen like vultures. One pokes a finger into the gravy, another prods a pie. But they are easily lured away by the promise of another opportunity with the new puppy. Two hours later – and half a dozen near-mishaps later – the food is ready to serve 30+ hungry people. Turkey. Biryani. Mashed potatoes. Halwa poori cholay. Green bean casserole. Your typical desi Thanksgiving. Correction. Our typical desi Thanksgiving. Continue reading

UPDATED: A “Real Housewife” and her Husband Gate Crash the White House

Update: I’m watching the news, right now. Fox 5 DC is reporting that Michaele was never a Redskins Cheerleader. The Secret Service visited the couple’s winery this morning, but the party-crashers were not there. The Salahis DID meet Obama via a receiving line, Tuesday night. The Secret Service owned their failure in a strongly-worded statement today; the news said that they are considering pressing charges.


Before it occurred, the State Dinner was all anyone could talk about, here in Washington, D.C. After? We’re still talking about it– and yes, contrary to what some SM commenters think, State Dinners are a big deal. I will admit that my perception is perhaps tainted; I don’t just live inside the Beltway, no, I am surrounded by the chattering class and bold-faced names because I live in Georgetown, home to many elected officials, the journalists who cover them, and the staffers who serve them. So here? The State Dinner Mattered, with a majuscule “M”.

Fashion mattered. Etiquette mattered. The food mattered. Most of all, the “rules” mattered, because following them was how we guaranteed a successful event. One rule which was broken, in what many here see as a daring move to differentiate the Obama administration from those which preceded it? Serving food from the same culture of the guest who was honored:

…the Obamas shook things up by serving, among other dishes, Indian food to an Indian delegation, typically a no-no.

“You wouldn’t try to outdo the Indians; that would not be typical,” said Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff and took pains to praise Mrs. Obama as moving in a new direction. “It’s the perfect combination of American food with a nod to the visiting country.” [nyt]

It wasn’t just American food, it was a personal statement by the first African-American president. They may have started with “elite” arugula, but they also served collard greens. Who better to strike such a delicate balance, and to take a considerable risk, than a world-class chef with a seriously cross-cultural back story?

They selected a guest chef, Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit in New York, an American citizen who was born in Ethiopia, reared in Sweden and cooks up melting pots of flavors and cuisines. [nyt]


While the culinary “rule” was broken without repercussions, a different, more serious bout of rule-breaking is what has my city (and the world, really) uttering a collective “WTF?” As almost all of you may know by now, two fame-loving, local “socialites” crashed the State Dinner. Continue reading

No Turkey for you

An ex-Infosys employee, who is Indian American, is suing her former employer for calling her an “ABCD” and making her work on Thanksgiving to beat the “C” out of her. Promila Awasthi, a Silicon Valley computer consultant, says that Infosys management (presumably comprised of Indian Americans or Nationals) mocked her for wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving even though she was originally from India and shouldn’t be interested in such American holidays:

…her bosses at Infosys’s Fremont ,Calif. office mocked her for observing American holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and refused to pay her overtime according to California law.

The lawsuit is potentially explosive for Infosys, one of a host of India-based information-technology outsourcing firms which take over computing tasks from other companies. [link]

Ouch. If any of this is true it definitely won’t help the image of a company that already has a tough PR job given that it is in the outsourcing business. I wonder, would they have been ok if it were Tandoori Turkey? Here are some more details from the lawsuit:

Infosys management routinely disparaged Americans, including Mrs. Awasthi, as not having “family values,” and stated that layoffs in America are good because the jobs will be outsourced.

Infosys management ridiculed Mrs. Awasthi for celebrating the American holiday of Thanksgiving, telling her that she should not celebrate Thanksgiving because she is Indian, and that therefore she must work on Thanksgiving Day.

Infosys management ridiculed Mrs. Awasthi’s children for celebrating Thanksgiving, and called them “ABCD” short for “American-Born Confused Desi,” and “IBCD” short for “Indian-Born Confused Desi,” insulting terms used to criticize people of Indian ancestry who are Americanized. [link]

I kind of sympathize with Awasthi. As a tireless blogger I am being forced to work today also, even though I would like some Tandoori Turkey while watching American football. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

The Eidie Goat

GOAT.jpgEid Mubarak, Mutineers! There are two Eids that Muslims celebrate, one marks the end to a month of fasting and another marks the end to pilgrimage to Mecca, called Hajj. Today we celebrate the latter one, Eid-al-Adha. This Eid in particular is the one where a sacrifice is supposed to be made of a goat or cow (the meat is to be eaten later and donated), in remembrance of the story of Ibrahim being asked by Allah to sacrifice his son and his son being replaced by a goat.

It was for this reason, my friends and I joked around about how we needed an Eid goat. Easter has the bunny rabbit, Christmas has Santa Claus. But growing up as a Muslim kid in the U.S., we didn’t really have anything equivalent. I was always told Eid was my version of Christmas, but then, why did all the other kids get presents and we didn’t? As we got older, it seemed like the Eid goat would have been the perfect solution.

Thus, I had already goats on my mind when maitri tweeted the following “I Want a Goat” video [NSFW]. It’s promoting a program, I Want a Goat, where you can design and donate a goat to a village in India. The modern twist is that this video has hipster charm splashed all over it.

I realize the tie between this video and Eid is tenuous at best. I found the the song amusing and the cause seems legit. The project was started by a woman Debbie who volunteered in the village for seven months and saw a similar program run successfully in India. For only a $20 donation, you will be donating a goat to a village in Koraput. Why goat?

For tribal people who are landless, raising goats is a great alternative source of income. Families who breed goats can earn a good profit selling the kids in the local market. The extra income provides a safety net for families that can be used for things like medicine, food during lean periods and farm equipment. Continue reading

In 2010, Desis Are Taking Over Congress

Dalip Singh.jpgWe are now less than twelve months away from the next big election, the 2010 Midterm Elections. Another election? I know, I know. It feels a little too soon. But on November 2, 2010 elections will be held for at least 36 of the 100 seats for US Senate, all 435 seats for the US House of Representative, and a Governor’s race in 36 states.

This election is particularly significant because there are six South Asian candidates running for a seat in US Congress. To give a little context, the first person of Indian origin to hold a congressional seat was Dalip Singh Saund (D-CA) who served representing California from 1953-1967. the next one didn’t get elected until almost 50 years later. It was Bobby Jindal (R-LA), who served from 2004 – 2007, after which he got elected as Governor for Louisiana.

Here’s the congressional candidate run through: Raj Goyle (D-KS), Manan Trivedi, (D- PA), Ami Bera (D-CA), Ravi Sangisetty (D-LA), Reshma Sejauni (D- NY) and Surya Yalamanchili (I-OH). And they are all YOUNG, ranging in age from 27 to 40 yrs old.

rajgoyle.jpgRaj Goyle – Kansas, 4th Congressional District

Represents the 87th District of Kansas House of Representatives since 2007. Attorney and a lecturer at Wichita State University. (Past SM post here.)

Raj graduated from Duke University and then Harvard Law School where in addition to his legal studies, he founded a technology company with two classmates that taught him the importance of entrepreneurship.After law school, Raj clerked for a federal judge and then as an advocate for better schools, improved voting rights for the disabled, and as an expert on homeland security issues. [rajforkansas]

amibera.JPGDr. Amerish ‘Ami’ Bera – California, 3rd Congressional District

Physician and former chief medical officer of Sacramento County’s Primary Health Care system.

The core planks of my campaign are as follows – We must build a health care system that has a compassionate baseline that is available and accessible for every American. Second, we must rebuild our educational system to teach students to think and make sure it’s flexible enough to allow for many career paths, from trades, to technology, to college. Third, we must create an economy that rewards employment and creates career pathways that allow for a secure and sustainable future over a lifetime. And last, we must have an environmental and energy policy that builds for generations to come. [ssvms]

Reshma Saujani.JPGReshma Saujani – New York, 14th Congressional District

Lawyer, community activist (and former SAAVY board member!)

She’s the daughter of immigrants who fled from violence in Uganda, and has degrees from Harvard and Yale. Saujani reportedly interned in the White House at the same time as Monica Lewinsky. By the age of 28, Saujani had established herself politically as an effective fund-raiser for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. At the time, she was quoted as saying, “I’ll be into active politics myself in a few years. I hope to become a Senator someday.” [nyobserver] Continue reading

Swing voters or no-shows?

It has been a couple of weeks now since Republicans upset the Democrats in the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races. Both of these states went for Barack Obama in 2008. There were two simple explanations debated among the pundit class (although in politics the reality is never simple): 1) The incumbent in New Jersey and the democratic nominee in Virginia were exceptionally poor candidates. One (Corzine) was very unpopular and the other (Deeds) was just too unpolished a candidate. 2) Independents are very discontent with Obama and this is a sign that the country is turning toward Republicans and Republican ideals

A writer at the little-known Washington Examiner culled the polling data and has come up with another theory: it’s the Indian American voters swinging that is responsible:

As I drilled down in the election results by city, borough and township, I saw that Christie carried Woodbridge Township by a 51%-42% margin and Edison Township by 49%-45% margin. These are the largest jurisdictions in the county, with about 100,000 people apiece, and Woodbridge was the political base of Jim McGreevey, who was elected governor in 2001 and resigned in 2004 after it was revealed that he had made his male lover head of the state homeland security department. Then I recalled that Middlesex County these days has an unusually large percentage of residents, 18%, who classify themselves to the Census Bureau as Asian. That’s one of the highest figures outside Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay area. And according to these figures from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Edison township’s population is 36% “Asian only,” as compared to 49% “white only” and 7% Hispanic, while. Woodbridge township’s population is 19% “Asian only,” as compared to 66% “white only” and 15% Hispanics. The two township’s “black only” percentages are 10% and 9%. In other words, Asians are the largest and most visible minority in Edison and Woodbridge Townships–and are apparently largely of one source, Edison in 2000 had the highest percentage of Indian-ancestry residents, 18%, of any jurisdiction with more than 1,000 Indian-ancestry residents in the nation. Following it on the list were Iselin (part of Woodbridge Township), Plainsboro Township (in southern Middlesex County, adjacent to Princeton), Dayton (a part of South Brunswick Township in Middlesex County) and Avenel (part of Woodbridge Township).

What I think we are looking at is an upscale Indian cluster, around the pharmaceutical, scientific and technical firms in central New Jersey. These people appear to be upscale demographically; the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports that Middlesex County foreign-born residents (48% of whom are Asian, 26% Hispanic and 6% black) have a higher percentage of over-$75,000 earners than Middlesex County native-born residents, a higher percentage in management and professional occupations, a lower percentage of people in poverty, higher mean earnings, and nearly twice as high a percentage with graduate degrees and more likely to be in married couple families.

All this evidence strongly suggests that Republicans made gains and Democrats suffered significant losses among Asian, and specifically among Indian-American voters, in Middlesex County. This upscale group, ready enough to vote for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, seems to have been repelled by New Jersey’s high taxes and big government under Jon Corzine. There should be some lessons here for Republicans generally–and for Democrats as well. [link]

If this is true then I blame Corzine for not showing up to the parade. The article also points out the following with regards to the Virginia race:

Plus, down in Virginia, Fairfax County, which is 16% “Asian only” and which like Middlesex County voted 60%-39% for Barack Obama, voted 51%-49% for Republican Governor-elect Bob McDonnell. McDonnell campaigned heavily in Fairfax’s immigrant communities and clearly made some inroads there. [link]

There is of course another, equally dramatic, conclusion one can make using the statistics cited by the author of this article. Maybe Asian American voters just didn’t show up to vote. It was an off-year election. Even if that is the case, it goes to show you just how important the South Asian American electorate is becoming in many parts of the country. By NOT showing up to vote our community can swing the outcome of an election. Continue reading

Your invite must have gotten lost in the mail

As one commenter pointed out yesterday, despite getting invited to the Democratic National Convention, Sepia Mutiny was NOT invited to the State Dinner last night. We are human here in the bunker. We hurt and feel slightly slighted. I think I should have have been invited so that I did not have to suffer the indignity of spending hours at…just hoping in vain. As I alluded to in my post yesterday, an invitation to a state dinner is a big deal. So is not getting an invite. This is especially true if you are widely seen as the current elder statesman of Democratic Indian American Politics. A source tells me that Kumar Barve feels like he got hit by a bus (or thrown under it).

First elected in 1990, and re-elected three times–in 1994,1998, and 2002, Delegate Kumar P. Barve, age 48, is the Majority Leader in Maryland’s state legislature and is the longest-serving elected official of Indian origin. He represents a district with a population of 110,000 in Montgomery County, Maryland. He is known for his self-effacing sense of humor, and deep commitment to his community. [link]

It can’t simply be because he was a Hillary Clinton supporter. Other D-Punjab friends were invited. [update: Reader Subodh Chandra corrects me: Barve endorsed Obama. However, he was close with Clinton and also part of Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council. It seems highly unlikely that the omission of Barve was a mere oversight. Given his endorsement of Obama, the mystery deepens.]

This post is mostly targeted at our hard-core political junkie readers/insiders. What do you think is going on here? Anonymous tips to me are welcome: abhi [at] Continue reading

Are You Sari Yet?

I blame Sanjay Gupta for dragging me away from my studies and back to the bunker. Today, when Dr. Gupta posted a picture on Twitter of the sari his wife was wearing to tonight’s state dinner at the White House – I couldn’t help but be drawn into the fashion maelstrom that marked the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and his wife, Gursharan Kaur. (Sorry Abhi, you can have your fancy dinner menu. Give me saris and ball-gowns any day.) But where to start?

mrs. obama.jpg

Ah, Mrs. Obama. Always the fashion darling. She wore not one – but two desi designers today.

She was tending to her hostess duties in a strapless silhouette with the beads forming an abstract floral pattern that was custom-made by Naeem Khan…She wore a matching wrap, a stack of bangle bracelets on her wrist and dangling earrings… Earlier today for a preview of the event, Mrs. Obama wore a skirt by Rachel Roy, also an Indian-American…Khan told CNN’s Larry King that his goals were to dress the first lady in something “Indian, chic, simple but very glamorous.” [Fashion director of InStyle magazine, Hal] Rubenstein said he was impressed that Mrs. Obama used her fashion knowledge to choose a sophisticated and regal style that paid homage to India without wearing a traditional sari-style dress, which could have come off as a costume next to India’s first lady. [Link]

Rubenstein may be right about the costume part, but I admit I would love to see Mrs. O in a gorgeous sari. Maybe someday. Check out the picture of Mrs. O wearing Roy here. You may remember Rachel Roy when we featured her on SM as one of the fashion industry’s best-dressed, young designers. As for Khan, according to his website, he was born in India and grew up in America, before launching his first collection here in 2003. Continue reading