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Why Suneel Gupta is running for US Congress

By Pottayil Rajendran
July 19, 2018 10:30 IST
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His mother was the first female engineer at Ford.
His brother is a CNN icon.
'Do we want politicians or problem-solvers?' Suneel Gupta asks Pottayil Rajendran.

Suneel Gupta, left with his elder brother, CNN's Dr Sanjay Gupta

IMAGE: Suneel Gupta, left with his elder brother, CNN's Dr Sanjay Gupta. Photograph: Kind courtesy Suneel Gupta

Suneel Gupta finds his inspiration in the story of a refugee and immigrant.

Seventy-one years ago, his mother Damyanti, then five, and her family, found themselves strangers in their own land, and fled the newly fledged Pakistan for India.

She grew up and went on to immigrate to the US, becoming the first female engineer with a degree at Ford.

Her son is now in a strong position in a competitive race for Michigan's 11th Congressional district, battling four Democrats in the primary, August 7.

"My mom's story is not just an Indian story, it's a Michigan story," Gupta tells, adding, "Work hard, play by the rules, and you will have the opportunity here."

"It was the story I was being brought up with," he adds.

He argues that most Michiganers like himself would recognise the story though that is being challenged now by an insular viewpoint.

"That is Donald Trump's America," he says.

Before he can take on the larger challenge of office, he has to face the Democratic competition in the primary: Tim Greimel, a state representative; Haley Stevens, a former chief of staff in the Obama administration's office of recovery for automotive communities and workers; Fayrouz Saad, who worked for Detroit's office of immigrant affairs; and Nancy Skinner, a progressive radio commentator who has lost a few elections, including a Democratic primary in 2004 to Barack Obama.

Gupta has himself been active in politics since his days in Novi High School, among other things working on the campaigns of Senator Debbie Stabenow, and of John Dingell, a US representative who retired in 2014. and with various groups in the Democratic Party.

Now it is clearly his turn.


Video credit: Kind courtesy Suneel Gupta for Congress

Gupta -- who has a degree in computer science from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, a BA from the Kellogg School of Management and a law degree from Northwestern Law School -- has worked in Mozilla, Groupon, and, apparently with help from his brother, CNN Correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta, set up Rise, a startup with a mobile app that connected patients with clinically approved dieticians.

"My background is in science and technology. Most of what we are doing is tapping technology to help people," he says.

Rise sold in two years for a reported $20 million, that Michelle Obama later partnered with as part of her Partnership for a Healthier America.

He says the Hillary Clinton campaign had asked him to work on their office of science and technology, had the presidential candidate won.

Suneel Gupta, right, with his parents Damyanti and Subhash Gupta

IMAGE: Suneel Gupta, right, with his parents Damyanti and Subhash Gupta. Photograph: Kind courtesy Suneel Gupta

Gupta has already collected over $1 million, most of them in small donations.

"We have said from day one that we will not take any corporate special interest money," singling out the National Rifle Association, which has repeatedly courted controversy after a spate of mass shootings.

The only candidate with a bigger war chest is Lena Epstein, a Republican who was campaign manager for Donald J Trump in Michigan and who is largely self-funded.

While Gupta's planks include a stress on improving education and healthcare, increasing quality jobs and putting checks on the availability of guns, he speaks up for the reality of climate change too.

The claw-shaped district that curves around Detroit leans Republican. It was where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by four points.

But Cook's Political Report puts the election this year as a tossup between the two major parties.

For now, Gupta's eyes are on August 7.

"It is key in a primary to make it clear to the voters how you are different. I'm the only candidate with hands-on health experience," he said, citing his experience at Rise.

"At a time Donald Trump cut Medicaid by $2 trillion, people are making choice between groceries and the medicine they buy."

According to him, the biggest issue is not what is often touted by pundits.

"Whether it is a Democrat, Republican or independent, (what they say is) 'My family and I work longer, harder, more hours, and have nothing to show for it'."

Arguing that people were being squeezed, Gupta asks, "How do we get people unsqueezed?"

He says his solutions are increasing wages, providing better education and training skills that will get people better jobs.

While all this happens only after Gupta wins the primary contest, he points out that Epstein teamed up with Donald Trump, Jr, son of the president, to disparage him.

In addition, the Daily Caller, a conservative outlet, said Dr Sanjay Gupta's presence on his brother's election ad suggested his journalistic impartiality was compromised.

Gupta is unapologetic about having his brother stick with him.

"He's my closest friend, closest adviser. He's a strong, close personal adviser of the campaign," Gupta says.

"The other side is more interested in talking about politics than about the things that really matter."

Then he asks what is clearly a rhetorical question for which he himself is the answer: "Do we want politicians or problem-solvers?"

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