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'I am praying at the temple everyday for Obama'

By Aziz Haniffa in Denver, Colorado
Last updated on: August 28, 2008 12:53 IST
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San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Devi Harris, a Barack Obama campaign insider, who also serves on influential policy making committees of the Democratic National Committee and was one of the headliners of the only Indian-American event at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, said her grandmother in Chennai who scrupulously follows the campaign, had told her when she spoke to her on the phone before she left for the convention in Denver, "You let them know I am going to the temple everyday and praying for Barack Obama."

"It's very exciting and certainly my grandmother and our family members, not only in India, but in this country are all very excited about the future of our country," she said.

Harris, also an appointed at-large delegate from California to the convention, said, "I was very proud to be one of the first elected in California to endorse Barack Obama. I supported him for the US Senate and he supported me in my race to become the first Indian-American district attorney in the country."

"And, I can tell you that I know very well of his commitment to doing good in terms of his leadership of this country, and in particular, to the very important aspect of a good democracy, which is coalition-building."

"Barack was recently in San Francisco at a Indian-American (fund-raising) reception we hosted for him and he proudly declared to the crowd his status as a desi and talked about the need to have an Administration in Washington, DC, and the White House that understands the plight of immigrants coming into the country -- the need to have an administration and policies that reflect good immigration policies and also that look to leadership in terms of having a good relationship with our international neighbours," Harris recalled.

"I think Indian-Americans can be very proud of our support of Barack Obama and electing the next president of the United States, who again by his own admission will be a desi," she added.

At the August 17 fund-raiser, Obama said, "Not only do I think I'm a desi, but I'm a desi," and added, "I'm a homeboy," and recounted that when he attend Occidental College his first roommate was a Pakistani and said to laughter, "in the dorm, Indians and Pakistanis came together under one roof... to cause havoc in the university."

To much applause, he also said how in interacting with his South Asian friends he had become an expert in cooking dal and other subcontinental delicacies although "somebody else made the naan."

"Those are friendships have lasted me for years and continue until this day," Obama said, and declared, "I have an enormous personal affection for the people of South Asia."

Preeta Bansal, former New York solicitor general and currently a partner with the international law firm of Skadden Arps, who is a senior advisor to the Obama campaign and was the other headliner, declared to the packed audience in the ballroom of the Denver Athletic Club, "I really think that Barack's story is our story and his candidacy is an especially extraordinary milestone and a catalyst for our community."

An at-large appointed delegate from New York to the convention, Bansal said that Obama's first book Dreams From My Father was one she believed "almost every Indian-American kid growing up in this country who reads that book has unbelievable moments and glimmers of recognition -- his struggle for an identity, his struggle for values, his struggle for finding his place in society."

"His America represents what all of us would hope and want our America to be," she said.

"In terms of the campaign and its impact on our community, what I have been so excited about working with so many of us like Ann Kalayil and Subodh Chandra -- and so many of us who've been involved in his campaign from the very beginning -- what's been extraordinary about this campaign is they have looked to our community, not simply for our pocketbooks," Bansal said.

"They didn't ask us to open our wallets, they asked us to open our minds and our hearts," she said. "So, they really looked at us as a full community -- one that has policy ideals, one that has grassroots involvement and engagement and I think in this campaign is really the first time our community has married all the three levers of influence."

Bansal described these as "policy thought leadership, grassroots and ground-up involvement and financial strength," and pointed out that in the South Asians for Obama co-founded by Hrishi Karthikeyan and Devendra 'Dave' Kumar, "we have an incredible grassroots movement. We have probably one of the earliest and best organised efforts within the campaign in terms of mobilising you."

Bansal also said the community "has a very strong finance committee and we have good fundraising at the moment and then we have key people throughout this campaign in positions of policymaking."

"It is an extraordinary opportunity for our community. At the end of the day what's so exciting about Barack Obama is that he is someone who is rooted in his identity, but he is not confined by it and that's something that we all as a community strives to be -- people who are rooted in our origins as Indian-Americans, but people who are not confined by it," Bansal asserted.

Image: San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris

Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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Aziz Haniffa in Denver, Colorado
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