All the president’s desis
Not only does US President Barack Obama view ties with India as a “defining partnership” of the 21st century, but he also banks on a lot on many Indian Americans to get things done. At over two dozen, the Obama administration has more Indian-Americans in high places than ever before.
Their numbers have been rising through the Clinton and Bush presidencies in keeping with their growth (2.5 million now) and success in public life.
By far the most high ranking desi, as South Asians are called colloquially, in any presidential administration is Rajiv Shah, who as the administrator of USAID holds the purse strings of a $2.6 billion kitty to provide foreign aid to from earthquake ravaged Haiti to flood-hit Pakistan.
Before he was picked up by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the sub-cabinet level job, the whiz-kid born to immigrant parents from India, served as undersecretary for research, education and economics and chief scientist in the Agriculture Department.
Obama’s two other most significant choices are Aneesh Chopra to be the first chief technology officer and Vivek Kundra as the federal chief information officer, appointments which endorsed the Indian presence in the technology sector.
Along with Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients, their job is to turn Obama’s vision of data-driven and digital government into reality with websites that are more like an Apple app store than well a government site.
“In our personal lives, we live in a culture where ‘there’s an app for that’, but for whatever reason we came into Washington, and it still looks like a culture where ‘there’s a form for that’,” says Chopra.
But the man to watch as Obama packs his bags for what promises to be a historic visit to India is Anish Goel, a senior staffer of the National Security Council and a rising star of the US foreign service.
It was Goel with a PhD in chemical engineering from MIT, who was at Obama’s side at his one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his state visit last November, the first such visit of the Obama administration.
Similarly, when the US side engaged New Delhi on Af-Pak issues, the Senior Defence Advisor to Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was another desi, Vikram Singh.
Obama turned to yet another Indian American, Neal Katyal, when he chose Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace the retiring Associate US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Kagan’s principal deputy, the former Paul and Patricia Saunders professor of national security law at Georgetown University Law Centre, now holds her job in an acting capacity.
An Indian-American Muslim, Rashad Hussain, is the US Representative to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, an intergovernmental group with 57 member states. And another Farah Pandith serves as US special representative to Muslim communities.
Three Indian Americans Farooq Kathwari, Sunil Puri, and Amardeep Singh serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a body to help the community get greater access to federal funding and programmes.
Other Obama choices include Preet Bharara, the US attorney for New York, a job previously held by former mayor and 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, and Preeta Bansal, general counsel and senior policy advisor in the Office of Management and Budget.
Among science brains, IIT Madras alumnus, Subra Suresh, has just taken over as the director of the National Science Foundation, the top US science body with a $7.4 billion budget to support scientific institutions.
Another Arun Majumdar is director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy in the US Department of Energy.