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Why NRIs from California supported the AAP

December 26, 2013 12:56 IST

'I know of at least one techie who quit his job to join the AAP in Delhi. Many others traveled to India to volunteer during the election. If you ask these volunteers why they were doing it when they can't even vote in India, they say, "We want a corruption-free India".'

Ritu Jha looks back on the year that was; it was party time, she says, for news junkies like her.

Aam Aadmi Party workers celebrate with brooms, the party symbol, after the AAP's historic mandate in the Delhi assembly election.The young Indian-American population keeps me on my toes as a reporter. From business to the arts, from governmental tiffs to the world of philanthropy, the community is buzzing so much that a news junkie cannot possibly ask for more.

Sometimes, I feel as if my body is in the United States and my mind in India. At other times, it feels just the opposite.

In the viral world of technology, news travels so fast that if I am not on the Internet for a few minutes, I feel I am missing some breaking news.

The year began with the aftershocks felt in the US over the outrage in India over violence against women in general and the horrific New Delhi gang-rape and murder in particular.

That was followed by President Barack Obama outlining a rosy dream of comprehensive immigration reform, the victory over the Defense of Marriage Act and opposition to same-sex marriage in California, the plummet of the Indian rupee, the Reserve Bank of India getting a rock-star governor in Raghuram Rajan, the Twitter IPO, the Diaspora's plunge into ushering in political change in India.

There were also unsolved hate crimes, homicides, and the continuing furor over America denying Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi a visa.

As 2013 departs, I am back to covering aftershocks felt in the US of another tremor in India, this time over its Supreme Court effectively re-criminalising gay sex.

Just a couple of weeks ago, when the case about Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was to be heard by the Supreme Court in India, anxious supporters of gay rights were awake and alert at night in California eager to know what India's apex court has to say about India's LGBTQ community.

The voice of the LGBTQ community in the United States now rings loud and clear. For this I think the credit goes to math and computer whiz Edith Windsor, whom Time magazine called the matriarch of the gay rights movement that led the US Supreme Court June 26 decision to strike down DOMA, legalising same sex couples to be recognised as married for federal tax benefits.

The court also found California's Proposition 8 -- which eliminated rights of same-sex couples to marry -- unconstitutional. California Attorney General Kamala Harris officiated a same-sex marriage soon after, and joined in the cheers of a jubilant crowd at the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade.

The Indian Supreme Court's decision may have turned back the time, but it is undeniable there is a sea change in the Indian-American LGBTQ community as well as in India.

Over the year, many Indian gays I interviewed said their families now accept them as they are. Gone are the days of hiding.

Another tremor in India that California, the neck of the wood I live in, had a hand in was the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party in India.

I saw young students at Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley selling AAP caps for $2 at Anna Hazare's events.

I know of at least one techie who quit his job at Macy's in San Francisco to join the AAP in Delhi. Many others traveled to India to volunteer during the election.

If you ask these volunteers why they were doing it when they can't even vote in India, they say, "We want a corruption-free India."

The sense of involvement is not something you can ignore, even if you don't agree with the AAP's politics.

As India hurtles towards the general election next year, another nonprofit, Overseas Volunteers for a Better India, is gearing up to do its bit.

This is part of a campaign started by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in India called I Vote for a Better India.

I cannot help but draw parallels in my mind with the Ghadar Movement for India's Independence a century ago. The Ghadar heroes too must have been young, full of passion to do something for their motherland.

Meanwhile, California's desi community is gearing up for a tumultuous electoral battle closer home: Between veteran Asian-American lawmaker Mike Honda and challenger Ro Khanna.

The coming months will be full of excitement -- in India as well as in California.

In the world of business, the high hopes from India have dimmed for many in Silicon Valley, which has almost an umbilical connection to India.

One prominent Silicon Valley pioneer investor declared unequivocally that if the same government comes back in India nobody will be able to stop the rupee's freefall.

I argued that with Dr Rajan at the helm of the RBI, the Indian economy could bounce back. The investor said, "Yeah. But it is all political. For the past couple of years I have started investing back in the Valley."

A new book, Seed India: How To Navigate The Seed Capital Gap In India, written by California-based entrepreneur Sramana Mitra says the US does more seed deals by 11 am on the first day than what India does in a year.

Another guy at a highly respected fundraising event said Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram came too late to Silicon Valley.

Switching to the American side of things, the comprehensive immigration reform remained a mirage this year. A week ago, many desis joined the Fast for Families, a national campaign started by people waiting for years to get documented status.

Among those who joined the fast was Priya Murthy, policy and organising programme director at SIREN (Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network) in San Jose, California. San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra also joined the campaign, declaring that he felt proud to fast to support comprehensive immigration reform.

For months, Manar Waheed, policy director, South Asian Americans Leading Together, has been hosting panels in various cities to create awareness about comprehensive immigration reform and its impact on the South Asian-American community.

Even though many lawmakers still seem in the grip of prejudice, a sign of the changing times came from the Associated Press. The respected news agency this year decided to drop the phrase 'illegal immigrant', opting for 'undocumented' instead.

Key Silicon Valley leaders like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer have made it their mission to push for immigration reform.

Dare I say 2014 brings hope?

Ritu Jha is Special Correspondent, India Abroad, the oldest and best-known Indian-American newsweekly, which is owned by Rediff.com

Image: Aam Aadmi Party workers celebrate with brooms, the party symbol, after the AAP's historic mandate in the Delhi assembly election. Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

Ritu Jha