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Indian-American political legend to run for Congress

By Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com
Last updated on: March 09, 2015 19:52 IST
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'It is very important for Indian Americans to understand that we need to have as many seats at the table as we can get. I am going to see to it that I am going to get there," Kumar Barve, the longest-serving Indian-American legislator in America, tells Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com in an exclusive interview.

Kumar Barve after winning the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the Community last year.

The Indian-American community could well be on track to boast of its second member in the US House of Representatives next year.

Kumar Prabhakar Barve, 55, a Democrat who is today the dean of Indian-American legislators, has decided to run for the soon-to-be vacant seat in the state's Eighth District.

The seat is being vacated by US Congressman Christopher Van Hollen, one of the most influential Democrats in the House.

Van Hollen has declared his candidacy for the US Senate seat being vacated by Senator Barbara Mikulski, 78, who has served in Congress longer than any woman in history, announcing that she will retire next year after serving five terms in office.

Barve, born in Schenectady, New York, was the first Indian American to be elected a state legislator -- being first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1990.

Twenty-four years later, he is the longest-serving Indian American lawmaker, and perhaps has the record for the number of legislative awards won for introducing and successfully getting enacted landmark legislation affecting the lives of millions of Marylanders.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff.com, on the eve of his formal declaration of his intent to run for the US Congress, Barve noted that if he won the Democratic primary in April 2016, he would be a shoo-in for the Congressional seat in the general election in November 2016 since it is a heavily Democratic district.

"The only reason I hadn't announced immediately when it was known that Chris Van Hollen's 8th District seat would now be an open seat was because administratively there are a lot of things you've got to get right."

"Now I am going to run hard for this seat," he added.

If he is victorious, he will join Dr Amerish 'Ami' Bera, the California Democrat, as the only two Indian Americans in the US Congress.

"All my friends in the Indian-American community, we cannot wait till March of 2016 -- we have to organise now," Barve said, adding that conservatively he needs to raise over $2 million to run a viable campaign.

"I am running because America is seriously off track," Barve said. "We are not a nation that addresses big problems anymore. We blow unimportant things out of proportion. We have the Republican Party, which is actively seeking to undermine the institutions of our country."

Also, he argued, "I strongly believe it is very important for Indian Americans to understand that we need to have as many seats at the table as we can get. I am going to see to it that I am going to get there. Ami Bera and I are going to bring plenty more people with us."

"I only wish my grandparents and my father were alive to see this," said Barve, quite emotional over his decision to make a bid for Congress, after years of serving as Maryland’s House Majority Leader.

"The fact is, especially for my grandparents who faced a lot of discrimination in the United States in the 1920s to see me and other Indians doing so well in this country is something that would have made it all worthwhile to them," he added.

Barve's father, the late Prabhakar Raghunath Barve, who hailed from Tarapur, Maharashtra, left India just after Independence and went to England where he was an architect and got a job with the ministry of works, renovating bombed out facilities from World War II in London.

His mother, Neera Barve, 88, who now lives in an assisted living facility, had joined her father Shankar Lakshman Gokhale -- who had first come to the US in 1911 -- and mother, years earlier along with her siblings.

Barve's grandfather had come to the US as a research scientist for GE, and lived in Schenectady, after a teaching career and serving as principal of the Holkar Science College in Rajkot.

On a visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, Barve recalled, "he (Gokhale) ran into Charles Proteus Steinmetz, who was the chief science officer at GE, who invited him to go to Schenectady for work at the GE facility there."

Image: Kumar Barve after winning the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the Community last year. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com


Kumar Barve's letter to supporters and likely voters after he announced his decision to run for Congress

My family, like so many others, came to America for freedom and opportunity. As they left India and traveled across the Atlantic they knew they would face hardships but they were hopeful that they would succeed.

Now, that dream is in jeopardy for millions of American families. There is no longer confidence that working hard and playing by the rules means being able to provide for your family.

I am announcing today that I'm running for the open 8th Congressional district of Maryland to help rebuild our middle class, restore hope in the American Dream, and grow our economy so that everyone has an opportunity to thrive and the freedom to live as they wish.

I made history in 1990 at the age of thirty-two when I was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and became first Indian-American ever to serve in a state legislature.

For 25 years as a legislator, I have worked to earn your trust. As Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, I helped lead the effort to build the best public school system in America.

I worked to foster economic growth through investments in biotechnology and information technology. I also fought to raise the minimum wage, expand health care to working families and keep college tuitions low.

Today, as Chairman of the Environment and Transportation Committee, I'm battling the Republican agenda to roll back environmental protections that make our families and communities safe.

In the private sector, I'm an accountant and the Chief Financial Officer of a local environmental and hazardous waste remediation company. I know how to create jobs, promote the private sector and still protect the environment.

I am ready to take my experience working for economic growth and fighting for our middle class to the federal level. I will build on the legacy of my friend, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who is seeking the open Senate seat.

When my dad crossed the Atlantic in 1958, wondering what America held for him and his family, he probably never imagined his son would ever get the opportunity to run for Congress. This isn't going to be easy. Offering bold and innovative proposals to rebuild our middle class and grow our economy never is.

But with your help, we can do this together and make our country great again for everyone.

Sincerely,

Kumar P Barve

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Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com in Washington, DC
 
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