Washington: The "incredibly rich" diaspora is truly an asset to both India and the United States, Neera Tanden, a top Indian-American aide to President Joe Biden has said as the White House prepares to host Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an Official State Visit next month.
Indian Americans, who constitute about one per cent of the US population, and are said to be having the highest per capita income among various ethnic groups in the US, over the years have played a key role in strengthening the India-US relationship, a fact that has been acknowledged at the highest level, including by President Biden.
“One thing that is truly an asset to both countries is the incredibly rich diaspora here in the United States. I have been engaged with organisations that have really focused on the diaspora in the United States, and the rich connections between Indian Americans, Indians who've been born here, who are first generation, second generation, and their families in India. This is a major asset to the relationship,” 52-year-old Tanden, senior advisor and staff secretary to President Joe Biden, told PTI in an exclusive interview.
Friday was her last day as the senior advisor and staff secretary to the President. From Monday, Tanden would take charge as the White House Domestic Policy Advisor, making her one of the most powerful Indian Americans in the White House. She replaces former National Security Advisor and former US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, as the White House Domestic Policy Advisor.
“I'm excited for the (Indian) State Visit,” Tanden said in response to a question.
Modi has been invited by President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for an Official State Visit on June 22.
“I'm really also excited for us to highlight the deep relationships between Indian Americans and their families in India and really how we learn back and forth. That's not just a one-way conversation. We learn a lot from them, and they learn from us. It’s a big asset to the relationship that those organisations' voices are so strong, and they are all throughout the country, not just in the east coast or the West Coast, but really, all throughout the country,” Tanden said.
Tanden started working in politics and policy in government in the late 1990s. She has been working in Washington at different levels for the last 25 years.
“I am just really proud of the role Indian Americans are playing. There were very few Indian Americans in the Clinton White House. There are very few Indian Americans in the Clinton administration. A lot of families have pushed their children in other directions, sometimes in medicine, business, and other areas. But what's really gratifying is to be in the White House and sit at the table, and see not just Asian Americans, but a lot of Indian Americans,” she said.
Tanden has served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, as well as presidential campaigns and think tanks. Most recently, she was the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Tanden previously served as senior advisor for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, working on President Obama's health reform team in the White House.
“So just yesterday I had a meeting with Dr Arti Prabhakar on artificial intelligence,” she said.
“She is an Indian American woman. I'm an Indian American woman. That's incredibly unusual. I do a lot of work with Vinai Reddy, who's the president's chief speechwriter, and very close to the president,” she said.
“So, I feel like I'm just incredibly proud of how much the Indian American community is contributing, South Asians are contributing to this administration, but more importantly, contributing to the country. Our voices are being heard in halls around the country, not just in medicine or business or tech, really at the highest levels of this government and more and more in Congress,” she said.
“I think what's really important is that the President feels so strongly that our policies are better when everyone is at the table, and we bring our lived experiences. Some of my lived experiences are being an immigrant, the daughter of immigrants, and so I think that's the president's commitment, the vice president's commitment." "Obviously, we're incredibly proud of having the daughter of an Indian immigrant as well as the vice president. So I feel like our voices are louder than ever,” she said.
President Biden has appointed a historic large number of Indian Americans in the Administration. Is this because of his love towards Indian Americans or the merit of the Indian Americans? She was asked. “Maybe both,” Tanden responded.
“I really think the president is ensuring that everyone is represented and at the same time, I think Indian American leaders are demonstrating their value to the process. The president does a lot of work with Dr Vivek Murthy. He worked with him during the campaign. Vivek, I know, is very close to the president,... because Vivek is a great leader on healthcare issues. As Surgeon General during the Obama administration and Surgeon General in this administration he is just demonstrating profound leadership,” Tanden said.