'Madam Vice President' Kamala Harris has opened a new chapter in US politics

'Madam Vice President' Kamala Harris has opened a new chapter in US politics

Indian village cheers for Harris who made history as first woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold office.
Updated 20 Jan, 2021

For more than two centuries, the top ranks of American power have been dominated by men — almost all of them white. That ends today.

Kamala Harris is the first female US vice president — and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the role.

After taking the oath of office, a beaming Harris hugged her husband, Douglas Emhoff, and gave President-elect Joe Biden a first bump.

Meanwhile, thousand of miles away, people in a tiny Indian village, surrounded by rice paddies, flocked to a Hindu temple, burst crackers and uttered prayers for its descendant and the new VP.

Groups of women in bright saris and men wearing white dhotis thronged the temple with sweets and flowers, offering special prayers for Harris’ success.

“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.

A child reacts as villagers hold placards featuring Kamala Harris after participating in special prayers ahead of her inauguration, outside a Hindu temple in Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, south of Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, India, on Jan 20. All photos by AP
A child reacts as villagers hold placards featuring Kamala Harris after participating in special prayers ahead of her inauguration, outside a Hindu temple in Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, south of Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, India, on Jan 20. All photos by AP

Historic rise

Harris' rise is historic in any context, another moment when a stubborn boundary will fall away, expanding the idea of what’s possible in American politics. But it’s particularly meaningful because she is taking office at a moment of deep consequence, with Americans grappling over the role of institutional racism and confronting a pandemic that has disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities.

Those close to Harris say she’ll bring an important — and often missing — perspective in the debates on how to overcome the many hurdles facing the incoming administration.

“In many folks’ lifetimes, we experienced a segregated United States,” said Lateefah Simon, a civil rights advocate and longtime Harris friend and mentee. “You will now have a Black woman who will walk into the White House not as a guest but as a second in command of the free world.”

Harris — the child of immigrants, a stepmother of two and the wife of a Jewish man — “carries an intersectional story of so many Americans who are never seen and heard”.

All roads led to the White House

Harris, 56, moved into the vice presidency just four years after she first went to Washington as a senator from California, where she’d previously served as attorney general and as San Francisco’s district attorney. She had expected to work with a White House run by Hillary Clinton, but President Donald Trump’s victory quickly scrambled the nation’s capital and set the stage for the rise of a new class of Democratic stars.

Her swearing-in comes almost two years to the day after Harris launched her own presidential bid on Martin Luther King Jr Day in 2019. Her campaign fizzled before primary voting began, but Harris’ rise continued when Joe Biden chose her as his running mate last August. Harris had been a close friend of Beau Biden, the elder son of Joe Biden and a former Delaware attorney general who died in 2015 of cancer.

“We’re turning the page off a really dark period in our history,” said Long Beach, California, Mayor Robert Garcia, a Harris ally. As Democrats celebrate the end to Trump’s presidency, Garcia said he hopes the significance of swearing in the nation’s first female vice president isn’t overlooked.

“That is a huge historical moment that should also be uplifted,” he said.

Beginning of women of colour in leadership positions

Harris has often reflected on her rise through politics by recalling the lessons of her mother, who taught her to take on a larger cause and push through adversity.

“I was raised to not hear ‘no’. Let me be clear about it. So it wasn’t like, “Oh, the possibilities are immense. Whatever you want to do, you can do',” she recalled during a CBS Sunday Morning interview that aired last week. “No, I was raised to understand many people will tell you, ‘It is impossible, but don’t listen'."

Harris’ swearing-in holds more symbolic weight than that of any vice president in modern times; people who want to understand Harris and connect with her will have to learn about what it means to graduate from a historically Black college and university rather than an Ivy League school, said Martha S. Jones, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.

“Folks are going to have to adapt to her rather than her adapting to them,” Jones said.

Her election to the vice presidency should be just the beginning of putting Black women in leadership positions, Jones said, particularly after the role Black women played in organising and turning out voters in the November election.

“We will all learn what happens to the kind of capacities and insights of Black women in politics when those capacities and insights are permitted to lead,” Jones said, adding people will have to understand Harris’ traditions, like the Hindu celebration of Diwali.

Harris’ grandfather was born in Thulasendrapuram more than 100 years ago. Many decades later, he moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the US to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower”.

In several speeches, Harris has often spoken about her roots and how she was guided by the values of her Indian-born grandfather and mother.

So when Joe Biden and Harris triumphed in the US election last November, Thulasendrapuram became the centre of attention in entire India.

A villager hangs a calendar featuring photographs of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris inside a wedding hall in Thulasendrapuram.
A villager hangs a calendar featuring photographs of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris inside a wedding hall in Thulasendrapuram.

Local politicians flocked to the village and young children carrying placards with photos of Harris ran along the dusty roads.

Then and now, villagers set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.

Posters and banners of Harris from November still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.

“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G. Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.


1000 Characters
Chrís Dăn Jan 20, 2021 09:50pm
A truly American woman! With all traits of USA. Nice.Reminds us of Hillary.
JustSaying Jan 20, 2021 09:56pm
Kamala... Kamal means Lotus.... ( The Lotus has Bloomed..)
Syed Ghazanfar Abbas Jan 20, 2021 10:02pm
Congratulations. Well done. All the best wishes.
Sajid Khan Jan 20, 2021 10:14pm
She is American. Not sure why Indians are going gaga.
C T Rao Jan 20, 2021 10:32pm
@Sajid Khan She has Indian blood in her. Indian genes in her DNA
Haris Jan 20, 2021 10:36pm
Kamala Harris is Niki Hailey 2.0. More deadlier.
Rahul S. Jan 20, 2021 10:46pm
Congratulations to Kamala Harris, the daughter of an Indian immigrant from Chennai, scripted history by becoming the first-ever woman vice-president of the United States !!
Rahul S. Jan 20, 2021 10:49pm
@C T Rao - Exactly !
Rahul S. Jan 20, 2021 10:50pm
She is the next Indian origin President of United States of America in waiting !
Changez Khan Jan 20, 2021 10:59pm
She will be good VP of USA.
Zak Jan 20, 2021 11:32pm
She is an avid Kashmir supporter for UN plebiscite.
Chrís Dăn Jan 21, 2021 12:01am
She is just American. Ethnicity is something not connected to her only citizenship which she has only for one country-USA. Her preference and her loyalty will always be with USA.
Taj Ahmad Jan 21, 2021 12:15am
Mr.President and Vice President, Please help India-Pakistan to resolved Kashmir issue and restart new friendship between them.
Suv Jan 21, 2021 02:17am
@Sajid Khan remember British boxer amir khan or london mayor.... radio gaga. Do you practice what you preach.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Jan 21, 2021 02:18am
Welcome, the first Jamaican-Asian-American women to the White House, Washington, D.C. As always, keep it up and hang on tough.
MG Jan 21, 2021 03:01am
Indians rocking in all fields....Congrats Kamala
Venus Jan 21, 2021 07:56am
It is her hardwork and dedication brought her to this position,it is not because she is indian or African descent
M. Emad Jan 21, 2021 08:45am
US VP Srimati Kamala Devi will solve the Kashmir issue.
Pakman Jan 21, 2021 08:46am
Kamala Harris stands for justice and fair play, nothing else matters. She will make a brilliant VP and hopefully a President someday.
Rahul Jan 21, 2021 09:40am
@Chrís Dăn I know how difficult it is to digest an indian american in top position................
SATT Jan 21, 2021 10:18am
Trump out Indian in.
A Human from India Jan 21, 2021 11:10am
@Sajid Khan Very True. She is an American, We south Asian should focus on our countries for development and progress peacefully.
K H Appan Jan 21, 2021 11:29am
Kamala means Lotus in Sanskrit...and it is the symbol of BJP , the right wing ruling party of India...The US media did not talk much about her Indian connection so also Kamala...She is seen as Black women than Indian women and she declared that she is a Christian during election speech...So BJP may have problem in dealing with Kamala...
Chrís Dăn Jan 21, 2021 12:21pm
@C T Rao Respect her as an American leader. She is NOT an Indian agent there. She is working for United States of America.
Chrís Dăn Jan 21, 2021 12:25pm
@SATT are you trying to imply that Kamala is an Indian Agent in USA by saying"India in". Do not sabotage the political repute of an American Leader and Kamala is 100% first an American loyal and then anything else. Remember her father was African but her fatherś family is sitting quiet in a dignified way. Why you are creating troubles for an American leader?
Chrís Dăn Jan 21, 2021 12:28pm
@Rahul it is a matter of American values-not of "digestion". I would appreciate intelligent response instead of any such slangish language please. Ms.Harris is only an American leader and her first loyalty is with USA constitution.
Anonymouseee Jan 21, 2021 12:36pm
Indians celebrated by cutting cakes when Trump was elected. And now they celebrate for Kamala Harris. So they basically take the side of whoever is in power.
BAXAR Jan 21, 2021 12:37pm
@SATT "Trump out Indian in." Indian police will take control of the city centers all over US, Goswami will host talk shows on Fox News and CNN,
K p rao Jan 21, 2021 12:43pm
@Zak Dream on. Dreaming is good for imagination.
MOHAN Jan 21, 2021 12:50pm
@M. Emad dont worry it will be resolved definately because pakistan is having one of the weakest prime ministers i have ever seen ...IK as a cricketer is totally opposite IK as a politician....iam very dissappointed with IK .
Li-N-Za Jan 21, 2021 01:19pm
But she is more than her origin. She has her own independent thought process aligned with American interest and democrat legacy. She will neither have soft corner for Indian policy makers nor any favour to Pakistan. She will act what suits to American interest and democrat values.
Sympathiser Jan 21, 2021 01:29pm
@Taj Ahmad Bro But India is not at all interested in our friendship
Deepak maheshwari Jan 21, 2021 02:18pm
@Sajid Khan - Nobody going gaga, her mum was Indian and she has Indian root, like you Pakistani go gaga talking about Zayan Malik, same goes with India.. btw she is VP not a joke and she is also elected one
Logic Jan 21, 2021 02:39pm
Imran will have to beg in front of Kamala Harris.