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American Diary: Seven days to go; Indian Americans to the fore

Indians are the backbone of the US economy and an important chunk of the Democrat support base. It’s not about a few doctors, IT professionals and corner shop owners—the trial and conviction of Rajat Gupta and the ouster of Vikram Pandit, which made world headlines, shows that Indians are now part of mainstream America

Blown off, course by Hurricane Sandy and head-butted by United Airlines I end up in Seattle which is in Washington State and is the bluest of blue states. It has two women senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, as is Governor Christine Gregoire who is retiring. So President Obama should carry the state handily on 6th November—there should be no contest.


So I will turn my attention to Indian Americans and their astonishing rise in the last twenty five years. When I was a student at Columbia Law College in 1986, India was regarded as a fledgling country and not much attention was paid to it or to Indians—the focus was on Japan, Korea and Europe. There were Indians running corner shops. There were professionals but they were not numerous and hardly prominent. Today my friend David tells me, “They (Indians) are the backbone of the community.”  “Backbone?” I ask.  He points to the number of Indian doctors, Indians in finance, information technology (IT) and of course running hotels. Every American community has Indians and every community has a kebab shop.


Indians have made a huge impact, particularly in medicine and IT. They are ubiquitous in the Bay area and you run into them everywhere. Waiting for my flight in Washington DC, I run into a couple from Hyderabad who lives in San Francisco. The husband works for Intel and the wife for Infosys—they have been in America for the past 10 years. The husband tells me that there is no point investing money in India when you are not sure about going back. You end up losing too much money in conversion. They look completely at home in America. I ask them whether it is true that at the Oracle office in the Bay Area even serves idli dosa for breakfast at the cafeteria. They admit that there are indeed enough of Indians working in the IT sector in the Bay Area for that rumour to gain currency. This couple, which was holidaying with the family in the Washington, is equally at home in India and America, although they do try and visit India once a year.


I ask my sister Ami who lives in Seattle what Indians in America are like? She says that some Indians are so conscious of their culture that they will send their children on weekends to a balwadi to learn an Indian language and be able to read, write and speak their mother tongue. But there is no entrenched class or caste system as in India. I do think that one reason why Indians flourish in America as is that they are not constrained by the joint family. Also, I do think the US is a far more egalitarian society which enables Indians to flourish.


A Tale of Two Indians: Rajat Gupta, high flier head of McKinsey which is a leading consulting firm was one of the most important Indians on Wall Street till he was brought down by an insider trading scam and was convicted for giving tips to Raj Rajaratnam a Sri Lankan hedge fund manager. He was prosecuted by District Attorney Preet Bharara, another Indian. It could never be proved that Gupta made any money from the inside tips that he was caught giving Rajaratnam. It is quite possible that he put friendship before the law and paid for it. Despite his extensive experience of America, Gupta probably never understood that unlike India the law in America is an objective reality. But he is lucky to get only two years in jail, which in view of the offence is a mere slap on the wrist. Bill Gates among others pleaded for leniency—even while he fell, it demonstrated Gupta’s clout.


The other Indian is Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit, who shepherded Citibank through the most turbulent years after the financial crisis of 2008. Citibank bought his hedge fund and later made him CEO. He stepped down recently after a boardroom coup orchestrated by the chairman. Both cases demonstrate that Indians had arrived in the mainstream of America—they are not just the rare success stories but also a part of the glory and the fall stories that we read about so often.


Indians are generally thought to be closer to the Democratic Party but given their rising wealth I do not know how long that will remain true—there is also the fact that two of the most dynamic governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nicky Haley of North Carolina are both Republican—but maybe the wont shift till the next election.


(Harsh Desai has done his BA in Political Science from St Xavier's College & Elphinstone College, Bombay and has done his Master's in Law from Columbia University in the city of New York. He is a practicing advocate at the Bombay High Court.)




5 years ago

'the law in America is an objective reality'!! Please do study US law a bit more: why people like Marc Rich get pardoned or how blacks get vastly different punishments for the same crimes as whites. Pandit did a fantastic job but was, like Rajat G, neither white nor Jewish.

A caste system? HSBC could not serve milk mithai at Diwali as the CEO was Jewish and wanted to maintain a kosher building.

How about those Indian scientists who were thrown out for no reason? Or all those companies which got huge bailouts after stealing from citizens? I admire the US but wrong is wrong.

Storm Sandy: 16 killed as megastorm batters the US

President Obama declared that megastorm Sandy had sparked a major disaster in the states of New York and New Jersey. Stock trading also remain closed in the US for the second day

New York: Superstorm Sandy battered the US East Coast on Tuesday with fierce winds and heavy rains, killing at least 16 people, plunging millions into darkness and leaving the New York Stock Exchange shut for two straight days for the first time since 1888, prompting President Barack Obama to declare it a "major disaster", reports PTI.


Sandy, one of the biggest storms ever to hit the US, slammed the coastline of New Jersey where a large number of Indian families reside, with 80 mph winds, pushing seawater up by an unprecedented 13-feet in New York City, bringing the Presidential campaign to a halt a week before the 6th November polls.


Obama, who took a day off from the campaigning yesterday to oversee from the White House the response to the megastorm, declared that megastorm Sandy had sparked a "major disaster" in the states of New York and New Jersey. He ordered release of federal aid for those who lost homes or businesses.


Republican challenger Mitt Romney also cancelled some campaign appearances.


Stock trading was closed in the US for a second day today the first time the New York Stock Exchange remained closed for two consecutive days due to weather since 1888, when a blizzard struck the city.


Storm damage was projected at $10 billion to $20 billion, meaning it could prove to be one of the costliest natural disasters in US history.


According to CBS News, 16 deaths were reported in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Some of the victims were killed by falling trees. At least one death was blamed on the storm in Canada.


Still, the power was out for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and an estimated 6.2 million people altogether across the East.


Emergency has been declared in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The storm affected more than 50 million people along the entire East Coast from North Carolina to New Hampshire.


The water flooded seven underground subway lines, putting them out of action temporarily.


"The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night," said Joseph Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).


"Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region. It has brought down trees, ripped out power and inundated tunnels, rail yards and bus depots," he said.


Police said floodwaters have broken a levee in northern New Jersey, threatening three nearby towns and prompting rescue teams to take to boats.


Ralph Verdi, the police chief of Little Ferry, New Jersey, told CNN the waters had risen by four to six feet in some areas,


Rescuers pulled residents from second-storey windows to safety.


"It's been an extremely difficult night. The power's still out. We're doing the best we can," he told CNN. "Our town is in real trouble right now."


Floods inundated a number of areas in New York and New Jersey and an explosion at a sub-station on the east side of Manhattan's Midtown plunged 500,000 people into darkness.


The facade of a four-story building in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood crumbled and collapsed, leaving the lights, couches, cabinets and desks inside visible from the street. No one was hurt.


Eyewitnesses said a huge ball of blue light exploded over Manhattan last night, believed to be a powerful blast at Consolidated Edison station.


The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) declared an alert at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey, which is currently in a regularly scheduled outage, as the water level reached the minimum high level criteria.


"Water level is rising in the intake structure due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge.


It is anticipated water levels will begin to abate within the next several hours," the NRC said.


According to NRC, no plants had to shut down as a result of the storm although several plants were already out of service for regularly scheduled refuelling and maintenance outages. All plants remain in a safe condition, with emergency equipment available if needed and NRC inspectors on-site.


The storm also flooded ground-zero, the site of the 9/11 terror attacks here.


Authorities evacuated more than 200 patients and staff of a New York city hospital after after its backup generator failed when the power was knocked out by the superstorm.


Sandy is no longer a hurricane because it is drawing energy from temperature differences and not the ocean, making the transition to a superstorm that may push a wall of water ashore in the Northeast and lash the East with wind and rain.


John F Kennedy airport in New York City and other airports in the region have been shut down with more than 13,000 flights being cancelled in the storm affected areas.


New York and New Jersey registered a record level of rainfall and shut down major transportation arteries.


Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic.


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