NEW YORK: Democrats Shri Thanedar and Pramila Jayapal have won elections to the House of Representatives, while three other Indian-Americans were leading in their constituencies early Wednesday.
If they all win as it seems likely, the strength of the “Samosa Caucus” as the group of Indian-Americans in Congress calls itself, will go up to five. An entrepreneur and self-made millionaire Thanedar, 67, who was born in Belgaum, Karnataka, beat a Republican rival in Detroit, Michigan.
Thanedar, who is now a Michigan state legislator, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic party nomination for Governor in 2018. He came to the US in 1979 and got his PhD in chemistry and an MBA.
He took out loans to buy a company he worked for, Chemir, and built it from a $150,000 company to one with a revenue of $14 million before selling it for $26 million, according to his LinkedIn page.
He next started Avomeen Analytical Services, a chemical testing laboratory. He sold the majority stakes in it in 2016 and, according to his campaign bio, retired to get involved in public service to answer “the call to fight for social, racial and economic justice”.
Running in a constituency that covers a chunk of a city that is overwhelmingly African-American, Thanedar stressed in his campaign that he grew up in poverty in a family of ten in India and worked in odd jobs to support his family after his father retired. “I’ll never forget what it’s like to live in poverty, and I’ll never stop working to lift Detroit families out of it,” he wrote on his campaign site.
Thanedar will be the seventh Indian-American to be elected to the House.
Meanwhile, Jayapal, 57, who was first elected in 2016 from Washington state, is the senior whip of the Democratic Party in the House and the chair of the influential leftist Congressional Progressive Caucus.
She has been a strong critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP on human rights issues. Jayapal, who was born in Chennai, grew up in Indonesia and Malaysia and came to the US for her BA.A She has an MBA and worked for the investment bank Paine Webber (which has been acquired by the Swiss company UBS) as a financial analyst.
As an activist for progressive causes, she has worked on immigrant issues and workers’ rights and was elected to the Washington State Senate in 2014. The other three current members of the House, all Democrats, are Ami Bera and Ro Khanna in California and Raja Krishnamoorthi in Illinois. Dalip Singh Saund, a Democrat, became the first Indian-American elected to the House in 1956.
He was followed by Republican Bobby Jindal in 2004.