India Goes Wild for Kamala’s Family Roots

India Goes Wild for Kamala’s Family Roots

Residents in Sen. Kamala Harris’ ancestral village haven’t seen her in years, but they are praying for her victory by sacrificing coconuts in Hindu temples. Others are pasting up posters or cheering the vice-presidential hopeful on social media.

In Tamil Naidu, she would win overwhelmingly among her landsmen.

Residents see her as America’s first Indian-American nominated for national office, not so much as the first African-American or the latest woman to be nominated for the vice presidency.

 

“In India, people who put up posters for Harris are breaking coconuts in temples,” said Harris’s uncle, Balachandran Gopalan. A New Delhi-based academic, Gopalan explained that breaking coconuts is a form of ritualistic worship for Hindus, especially those from south India. “I have also done the same,” he added. When his niece was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in 2017 by Joe Biden, he attended the ceremony.

Colorful posters wishing Harris victory are on display throughout her grandfather’s ancestral village, Painganadu Thusalendrapuram, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The poster went viral after Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, posted it on Twitter. “This is from Tamil Nadu, where our Indian family is from,” she wrote. “It says: ‘PV Gopalan’s granddaughter is victorious.’”

Today Harris has few living relatives in her home state besides an aunt, Dr. Sarala Gopalan, who lives in Chennai, the state’s capital. Still, the candidate’s campaign is eager for Harris to be seen as Indian American. In her Democratic National Convention speech, she spoke about her chithis (“aunts” in Tamil). While Americans had to google what it meant, the Tamil-speaking world was elated to hear a word in their mother tongue from the vice presidential nominee.

The villagers Zenger interviewed in Painganadu Thusalendrapuram—including those who were hanging posters—knew of the candidate more from the American news than from any living connection. But for the 2020 elections, the Democratic Party is going all-out to win the Indian vote and is using Kamala Harris’s roots as its calling card.

The Asian Indian population in the U.S. increased from 396,000 in 1980 to over 2.7 million in 2010, according to the website Statista. The group is one of the fastest-growing ethnicities in America, and with high levels of education and financial status, Asian Indians are gaining political clout. In matters of American foreign policy, India has become an important player, both as a venue for American business interests and as a strategic counterweight to China’s strength. As a result, there have been clear attempts to woo Indians’ support from Democrats and Republicans.

During the 2016 general elections, the Hindu American Foundation and the Republican Hindu Coalition threw their weight behind the Trump campaign. In return, Trump repeatedly promised Indians in general and Hindus in particular his support should he become president.

Mimicking Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign slogan “Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar” (“This time a Modi government”), a 2016 video of Donald Trump proclaiming Ab ki baar Trump Sarkar went viral with Indians in the U.S. and in India.

Harris—the first Indian-American and African-American woman to run for vice president—has often spoken of how her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, had a strong influence on her.

“Shyamala was an exceptional woman,” said Balachandran Gopalan. “She was a hard taskmaster and pushed her children to give their best. No wonder Kamala keeps talking about the influence her mother had on her life.”

Harris opened her vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech by remembering her mother and regretting that she was not there to see her success. “My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning,” she said.

Her mother studied for a master’s in nutrition and endocrinology at University of California—Berkeley starting in 1958. She completed her Ph.D. before venturing into breast cancer research.

“She went to study science in the U.S. at a time when very few American women were studying science, forget unmarried Indian women,” said Gopalan. “My father had no objection to her going for higher studies as long as she could get a scholarship and fund her studies.”

Shyamala Gopalan Harris joined the civil rights movement in Berkeley in the 1960s and met Donald J. Harris, a Jamaican graduate student, at a protest. They married in 1963. After their divorce in the 1970s, Kamala Harris would visit Chennai frequently with her mother and sister.

In a YouTube video with Mindy Kaling late last year, Harris revealed that her grandfather was “mischievous,” making her French toast when his strictly vegetarian wife was out of town. “People have these stereotypes,” said Harris. “My grandfather was very progressive.”

In her bestseller “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” the Democratic candidate wrote at length about her family in India and how she was close to them: “They lived many thousands of miles away, and we rarely saw one another. Still, through many long-distance calls, our periodic trips to India, and letters and cards written back and forth, our sense of family—of closeness and comfort and trust—was able to penetrate the distance.”

“Kamala would visit India with her mother very often, almost every year when both my parents were alive,” said Gopalan.

Harris’s grandfather died in 1998; his wife Rajam in 2009. But Gopalan has kept in touch with his niece and has closely followed her political career. Her vice-presidential nomination was no surprise to him. “I have been following the news analyses in the U.S. media and election polls and trends,” he said. “She has a good chance unless Trump comes up with a U.S.-made vaccine for Covid-19 before September or something equally dramatic.”

For Gopalan—like the residents of his ancestral village—his niece has already won.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Anne Denbok.)



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From Exile to Election: Old Foes Clash in Tanzanian Presidential Race

From Exile to Election: Old Foes Clash in Tanzanian Presidential Race

Tanzania’s incumbent president John Magufuli is facing a tough opponent in his upcoming re-election bid on Oct. 28 — literally.

Chadema MP Tundu Lissu survived 16 gunshot wounds in an unsolved assassination attempt outside his Dodoma residence in 2017 and has spent the past three years living in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Lissu, the former president of Tanzania’s bar association, the Tanganyika Law Society, returned home in June to announce his intention to run against Magufuli, who was elected under the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party banner in 2015 after promising to crack down on corruption and improve infrastructure in the East African country.

 

The prominent lawyer, who has long been a thorn in Magufuli’s side and has been arrested multiple times on charges ranging from insulting the president to disturbing public order, said Tanzanians deserve a change from the long-ruling CCM.

“Our biggest problem in Tanzania is our politics, our constitution and the poor leadership that has existed for a year and if we want to make a change that is desperately needed by Tanzanians, then the answer is not promising the same things that we’ve had for more than 70 years,” said Lissu.

His final arrest came one month before the attempted assassination after Lissu revealed that Canada had impounded a plane bought for national carrier Air Tanzania because of a financial claim against the Tanzania government.

Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe, who was sent to hospital with a broken leg after being beaten by unknown assailants the day after Lissu announced his candidacy, said his party seeks to unite the country.

“Magufuli’s government thrives on the oppression that is why we are calling people of Tanzania to stand to show up in large numbers on October 28,” said Mbowe. “We want to formulate a system that will work for us and Chama Cha Mapinduzi. We have no intention of revenging.”

As in neighboring Kenya, Tanzania’s federal government consists of the president and the National Assembly. The president is elected by direct popular vote every five years and is eligible to run for a second term.

Magufuli is a polarizing figure for many Tanzanian voters. He has been accused of clamping down on the opposition, gagging the media and forcing his way on citizens while also being celebrated for prioritizing industrialization and job creation through the private sector.

“Magufuli is loved and hated at the same time,” said Dodoma resident Kabadi Chule. “In 2015 people thought he was the saviour only to be disappointed by the impunity under his watch.”

Fatma Karume, a human rights activist from Dar es Salaam, is concerned about the integrity of the upcoming election.

“The shopping list of hard work bought by the laws to be paid for by taxpayers cannot justify the destruction of fundamental principles such as breaching of our constitution by creating impunity for the president, vice-president, chief justice and the speaker contrary to the constitution by destroying the independence of the judiciary and parliament,” said Karume. “In five years, Magufuli has managed to unconstitutionally re-engineer our society in ways that many of us never imagined possible and ultimately it will be for the voters to decide in October if their votes are properly counted by an electoral commission whose independence is questionable.”

For many voters, the biggest consideration may be how it affects their personal finances. Despite its richness in natural resources and having a burgeoning tourism sector before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, most Tanzanians live in poverty and are dependent on subsistence agriculture.

Since Magufuli took office as well as under his predecessor, Tanzania has seen relatively high annual economic growth, averaging 6 to 7 percent a year, according to a 2019 World Bank report. While the poverty rate in the country has gone down, the absolute number of poor citizens has not thanks to the high population growth rate.

“Tanzania has been growing very rapidly for several years,” said Aly-Khan Satchu, the CEO of Rich Management Limited, an East African investment advisory company. “Over the past fifteen years it has been growing with over seven per cent, it’s quite unusual to have countries to have such a prolonged economic growth. I hope it continues. The sources are many: one is population growth that is growing with two per cent [and] the growth is very broad-based many sectors account for it. There is a story of transformation away from agriculture into many sectors such as manufacturing of mattress and food processing.”

But not all Tanzanians are benefiting from this economic growth, according to fish trader Stefano Furuka.

“As much as the president has cracked down on corruption, we small-scale farmers have nowhere to take their products because Chinese investors have grabbed everything,” said Furuka.

(Edited by Andrew Fleming and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)



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Kamala Harris Wins Backing of ‘Divine Nine’

Kamala Harris Wins Backing of ‘Divine Nine’

In her historic speech accepting the vice presidential nomination for the Democratic party, Sen. Kamala Harris introduced her family — among them her beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, “The Divine Nine” and others from historically Black colleges and universities.

The California Democrat’s shout-out echoed worldwide.

As the first HBCU graduate and the first member of a historically black greek letter organization named to a major party ticket, Harris’ nomination has created a groundswell of enthusiasm among black greek member organizations whose combined membership exceeds two million globally.

Mannings is the chief business development officer at Partners for the Common Good. She united with a group of sorority sisters to watch Harris’ speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday. “There is a level of excitement that I’ve never seen,” she said.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which represents eight other predominately black greek letter organizations: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Affectionately known as “The Divine Nine,” each has graduate and undergraduate chapters in the U.S. and abroad.

Kamala Harris official U.S. Senate portrait. (U.S. Senate)

Since Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate, social media has been filled with support.

“Kappa Alpha Psi is definitely behind her, she has our vote,” said member Randall C. Pippen Jr., who attended Howard University with Harris and served with her on student government there. “I’ve talked to Omegas and Deltas who support her, and Deltas have shared the social-media post of ‘Deltas for Kamala.’ The support is across the board.”

Many prominent Black political figures and civil-rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., (Alpha Phi Alpha), Rev. Jessie Jackson (Omega Psi Phi) and Shirley Chisholm (Delta Sigma Theta), were or are members of the Divine Nine.

“As a proud member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., which is the fraternity of John Lewis, James Weldon Johnson, Rev. Al Sharpton and many others, we are grateful for all the members of the Divine Nine Black Fraternities and Sororities who are overjoyed by the nomination of Kamala Harris for the office of Vice President of United States of America,” said Ben Chavis, CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

But Harris is the first to be a VP nominee for a major party ticket.

“It’s clearly a historic moment,” said Everett B. Ward, president, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., on behalf of the nine NPHC presidents. Sen. Harris represents the high standards of public service and leadership that define members of the National Pan Hellenic Council, he said.

“All of our organizations, prior to Sen. Harris’ nomination, historically have been involved in voter registration, voter education and advancing public policy that involves African Americans,” Ward said. “The nomination underscores the importance for our organizations to continue promoting voter engagement and voter education. We are committed to protecting the right to vote for all citizens, especially when there are organized efforts to suppress the Black vote.”

The Divine Nine experience doesn’t end after college.

Volunteerism, community service, advocacy work, social gatherings, mentoring programs and strong bonds are sustained throughout adulthood. Members wear their respective fraternity or sorority colors with pride.

“Once you become a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, you’re always a member,” Mannings said. “We are about serving the community.”

Divine Nine member organizations, along with graduates and students across the country, also take pride in the fact that Harris is a graduate of a HBCU.

“Her selection is a nod to the excellence that comes out of HBCUs,” said Inez Brown, who attended Howard University and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha with Harris. “Often, people think HBCUs are not up to the same standards as predominantly white institutions and it’s absolutely not true. Statistics will tell you the most successful people in business, in finance and in different areas are products of HBCUs.”

Pippen said Harris was a member of the debate team and student government during their college years. She volunteered for community-service events with Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. and was active in social-justice issues on campus, such as protesting against apartheid, Mannings said.

For sorority sister Jill Louis, a Dallas attorney, Harris’ nomination has a higher purpose: She has been selected for a mission to rescue democracy.

“For us, it’s a bigger cause,” says Louis. “We are looking to galvanize the entirety of the Divine Nine and all members of HBCUs across the country,”

(Kalyn Womack contributed to this report. Edited by Fern Siegel and Matt Rasnic.)



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U.S. House Incumbents Keep Getting Ousted

U.S. House Incumbents Keep Getting Ousted

Incumbents in the House of Representatives used to win their primaries easily.

Not anymore.

This year, challengers have crushed eight incumbents in their own party. That’s the highest number of losses in a non-redistricting year since 1974. Chalk it up to allegations of corruption—but also increased political polarization.

On Tuesday Rep. Ross Spano, a Florida Republican, was the latest to fall. The Justice Department has been investigating Spano over loans he made to his 2018 campaign, according to the House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Eliot Engel’s defeat was the most high-profile crash-and-burn of an incumbent. Jamaal Bowman, a former middle-school principal and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, knocked off Engel, a New York Democrat and 31-year veteran of the House, charging him with being out of touch and too conservative.  Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backed Bowman.

Ocasio-Cortez herself had defeated 20-year incumbent New York Rep. Joseph Crowley in the 2018 Democratic primary, a major upset by the young progressive.

Bowman wasn’t the only progressive to win a striking victory in 2020. Rep. William Clay, a Missouri Democrat and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus watched his career end. Clay has been in the House for 19 years. Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and first-time candidate, offed him. In Illinois, Daniel Lipinski, a rare Democratic conservative who opposes legal abortion, lost his reelection bid. Marie Newman, a liberal, is the nominee.

A different kind of frustration ended the career of Rep. Steve King, a 17-year Republican from Iowa and a fierce opponent of illegal and current levels of legal immigration. Fellow House Republicans have shunned King over what’ve widely been considered to be racist comments about immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Conservative Randy Feenstra is likely to hold the seat for the GOP. In Virginia, a rural Republican, Rep. Denver Riggleman, paid dearly for presiding over a same-sex wedding and was sent packing after just two terms.

Multiple factors have contributed to this year’s defeats, including unhappiness with Congress, demographic changes, and fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, said Gayle Alberda, a politics professor at Fairfield University.

“So when you’re dissatisfied with what’s going on, you tend to vote for the outsider,” Alberda says.

Voters’ disapproval of how Congress is significantly higher now than it was in 1974, according to Gallup. Seventy-five percent of voters disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job in the most recent Gallup poll, while 34% disapproved in August 1974.

The irony of the election of more ideological figures is that it is likely to lead to more bickering and less compromise—something voters say they hate but keep encouraging.

(Edited by Matthew Cooper and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)



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Kamala Harris Juices Up Social Media Excitement for Joe Biden Campaign

Kamala Harris Juices Up Social Media Excitement for Joe Biden Campaign

Social media users were clicking and sharing items about Joe Biden more than ever before—thanks to his new running mate, Kamala Harris.

Social media engagement with stories about Biden hit its highest level this year the week the Democratic presidential candidate named Harris, the U.S. senator from California, to the ticket.

“Twenty-one of the 25 most engaged stories about Biden last week were directly to do with Biden picking her as VP,” Benedict Nicholson, head of research and editorial at NewsWhip, said in an email. The company tracks how content performs on social media.

Stories about Biden, nominated Aug. 18 during the Democratic National Convention, received 64 million interactions between shares, comments and likes on social media Aug. 10-16, according to NewsWhip data.

A majority of the engagement came from Facebook, with a smaller portion attributed to influential Twitter accounts and Pinterest pins.

Biden’s two prior peaks were in early March, when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary and endorsed Biden, Nicholson said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ending his campaign in April gave Biden another bump, Nicholson said.

Social media engagement with stories about President Donald Trump has overshadowed that of his challenger. Trump hit his low this year the week of March 2, with 80 million interactions, and he peaked the week of Feb. 3, when the Republican-led U.S. Senate acquitted him on impeachment charges, with 253 million engagements, according to Nicholson.

Trump’s announcement of Indiana’s Mike Pence as his running mate July 15, 2016, did little to boost social media engagement.

“Articles specifically mentioning him saw around 3 million engagements that week. Trump articles got 21 million engagements that week,” Nicholson said. “This was a middling number. January through end of August, the weekly low was 11.5 million and the high was 58.5 million.”

While Biden stories received a magnitude more in engagements compared with the week Trump named Pence as his running mate, “there’s not a huge amount of apples to apples comparison that we can make” because social media interactions, in general, have increased since 2016, Nicholson said.

Social media has become a more significant part of the political process than previous election cycles, said Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I think it’s more about the person that people are responding to as opposed to the four-year difference,” he said. “Pence is not that exciting. Pence is like the Biden now and Kamala is like the Trump then.”

(Edited by Lisa Neff and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.) 



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Zenger News Quiz: Cheap Cinema Thrills and a Political Reveal

Zenger News Quiz: Cheap Cinema Thrills and a Political Reveal



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