US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office on January 20. While Kamala Harris became the first woman of Indian and African descent to win as vice president, the Harris-Biden administration has nominated several Indian-Americans in key positions in their administration.
Biden’s picks for key roles have been hailed for being culturally diverse. India has reason to be proud as many of them are of Indian descent. Several of these nominations will have to be confirmed by the US Congress to take office.
Here’s a look at who’s who of Indian-Americans chose for important roles.
1. Neera Tanden, Director of White House Office of Management and Budget
Tanden was born to immigrant Indian parents in Bedford, Massachusetts. She is the president of the progressive Center for American Progress think tank that helped create Obamacare. After being nominated, she said on Twitter, “After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by. Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”
2. Dr Vivek Murthy as US Surgeon General
The 43-year-old Murthy was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire to parents who originated from Karnataka. If elected, Murthy will be one of the people heading Biden’s Covid-19 task force. He has already been the surgeon general of the US under the Obama administration when he was confirmed for the position in December 2014. After being picked by Biden, Murthy said, “I never dreamed I’d have the honor to once again serve as Surgeon General. In this moment of crisis, I’m grateful for the opportunity to help end this pandemic, be a voice for science, and support our nation on its path to rebuilding and healing.”
3. Uzra Zeya as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
Zeya is an Indian-American diplomat who had quit foreign service in 2018, to register protest against the policies of US President Donald Trump. Zeya has been the CEO of The Alliance for Peacebuilding, a collective of several organisations, to end violence and conflict in different countries. On her nomination, Zeya said, “In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals. I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.”
4. Mala Adiga as Policy Director to First Lady Jill Biden
Adiga worked with Jill Biden during the 2020 campaign to the US Presidential elections. She also worked for the Biden Foundation as director for higher education and military families. Before that, during Obama’s administration, she was deputy assistant secretary of state for academic programmes at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and worked in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues as chief of staff and senior adviser to the ambassador-at-large. Adiga has served as Jill Biden's senior advisor and a senior policy advisor on the Biden-Harris campaign. She is a lawyer by profession.
Adiga has roots in the Kakkunje village in Kundapur taluk of Udupi district in Karnataka. She belongs to the family of K Suryanarayana Adiga, founder of the erstwhile undivided Dakshina Kannada districts private sector Karnataka Bank Limited, and author Aravind Adiga.
5. Garima Verma as Digital Director of the Office of the First Lady
Verma was born in India and grew up in Ohio. Before being nominated for this role, Verma served as an audience development and content strategist on the Biden-Harris campaign. Previously, Verma was a volunteer with the content team, designing graphics for distribution to Biden-Harris volunteers across the country, it said in a statement.
6. Aisha Shah as Partnership Manager, White House Office of Digital Strategy
PTI reported that Shah was born in Kashmir and raised in Louisiana. Shah served as digital partnerships manager in the Biden-Harris campaign and is currently an advancement specialist for the Smithsonian Institution.
7. Sameera Fazili as Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council
The nomination of Fazili, whose parents are from Kashmir, brought much joy to her family back in Kashmir. “We are very proud. Everybody in Kashmir should be proud as it is a proud moment for the whole Kashmir. It is a great honour and respect for every one of us and a great occasion… She was not born here and her parents left the Valley in 1970-71, but she has a strong affinity with Kashmir," her uncle Rouf Fazili had said.
She was the economic agency lead on the Biden-Harris transition and was earlier posted at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, where she served as the director of engagement for community and economic development.
8. Gautam Raghavan as Deputy Director in Office of Presidential Personnel
Raghavan was born in India and was raised in Seattle, Washington. He served as the associate director of the Office of Public Liaison in the Obama administration before being nominated in the current post, PTI reported. Prior to joining the transition, Raghavan served as an advisor to the Biden Foundation, and as Vice President of Policy for the Gill Foundation, one of the oldest and largest private foundations dedicated to the cause of LGBTQ equality. During the Obama-Biden Administration, Raghavan served in the White House as the liaison to the LGBTQ community as well as the Asian American & Pacific Islander community, and in the White House Liaison Office for the US Department of Defence and as Outreach Lead for the Pentagon's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Working Group.
9. Bharat Ramamurti, Deputy Director of National Economic Council.
A resident of Boston, he is a distinguished alumnus of Harvard College and Yale School of Law. After being nominated he said on Twitter, “I’m honored to be joining the Biden-Harris administration as Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. We have much to do to get through this crisis and create a stronger and fairer economy — and I’m excited to get to work alongside this great team.”
10. Vinay Reddy, Director of Speechwriting.
Reddy grew up in Dayton, Ohio, the second one of the three sons in an immigrant family. He has also served as chief speechwriter to former Vice President Biden in the second term of the Obama-Biden White House, after which, he worked as Vice President of Strategic Communications at the National Basketball Association.
11. Tarun Chhabra as Senior Director for Technology and National Security
Chhabra was born in Tennessee and raised in Louisiana. He is a senior fellow at the Centre for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University. During the Obama-Biden administration, Chhabra served on the National Security Council staff as director for Strategic Planning and director for Human Rights and National Security Issues, and at the Pentagon as a speechwriter to the Secretary of Defence. He is an alumnus of Oxford University, Harvard University and Stanford University.
12. Sumona Guha as Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council
Guha is from Maryland. The Hindu reported that she had previously co-chaired the South Asia foreign policy working group on the Biden-Harris campaign, and was a member of the transition team.
13. Sabrina Singh will as Deputy Press Secretary at White House
PTI reported earlier this month that Singh was Press Secretary to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on the Biden-Harris campaign. Prior to her role on the campaign, Singh served as senior spokesperson for Mike Bloomberg's presidential campaign and National Press Secretary for Cory Booker's presidential campaign.
14. Vedant Patel as Assistant Press Secretary at White House
Patel is only the third-ever Indian American to be part of the White House press office Patel was born in Gujarat and raised in California. Patel has been a part of the Biden campaign where he served as the regional communications director. He has also worked as communications director to Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, western regional press secretary at the Democratic National Committee, and communications director to Congressman Mike Honda.
15. Shanthi Kalathil, Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights
An Indian-origin Californian, Shanthi graduated from UC Berkeley and the London School of Economics. She is currently senior director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, where her work focuses on emerging challenges to democracy. She has served as a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, an associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Hong Kong-based reporter for the Asian Wall Street Journal, and an advisor to international affairs organizations.