Hindus Offer Prayers For Harris In Her Grandfather’s Village In Southeast India

By Lauren Frayer

Kamala Harris is the first woman and the first person of color to become U.S. vice president. People in India celebrated Harris as the first person of South Asian descent to hold that office.


ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Kamala Harris is, of course, the first woman of color to become vice president, and people in India are celebrating her today as the first person of South Asian descent to hold that office. NPR’s Lauren Frayer is in Mumbai.

Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: Vice President Harris’ late mother was from India. And so how are people there celebrating that connection to her?

FRAYER: Yeah, so they’re really celebrating in her ancestral village. So Vice President Harris was born in California, but her maternal grandfather was born in this tiny village nestled in rice paddies in southeast India. And that’s where people were celebrating today. Here’s what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: So that’s the sound of a bell at a Hindu temple. A priest was washing a Hindu idol. People were carrying flowers, and one woman told local TV Kamala Harris inspires all of the women in the village. Now, aside from that one little village with a personal connection, nationwide, Indian media are running profiles of all the Indian Americans who’ve been tapped for jobs in this incoming administration. I think it’s 20 at last count, 13 of them women, including Neera Tanden, who’s been nominated to head the OMB, the Office of Management and Budget.

SHAPIRO: So those are some of the personal connections. Let’s talk about policy. I mean, when you look at foreign policy between the two countries, what do you expect to change under the Biden-Harris administration?

FRAYER: Not much, actually. U.S.-India ties have grown closer under President Trump. They’re expected to continue to grow. Biden’s nominees for secretary of state and defense secretary have both said that in their confirmation hearings. Basically, friendship with India is a bipartisan thing. President Trump, though, had a very public friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They held stadium rallies together in both the U.S. and in India. But officials on both sides say, you know, U.S.-India ties go well beyond just those two men and their friendship. India is the largest democracy in the world, as you know. And the U.S. really sees India as a bulwark against China, and so that’s not really going to change.

One thing, though, is that Trump didn’t really take Modi to task on human rights. Hate crimes and attacks on minorities have spiked under Modi’s time in office. And a year ago, Trump was actually visiting Delhi. I was covering that visit when religious riots broke out in the city while he was on the ground. And Modi’s Hindu nationalists were accused of instigating those riots and even killing Muslims, and Trump really refused to bring that up with his friend Narendra Modi.

SHAPIRO: Do you think Biden is likely to make treatment of minorities in India more of an issue?

FRAYER: Maybe. In the Democratic primaries, Kamala Harris mentioned Kashmir. That is India’s only Muslim-majority region. In 2019, the central government flooded Kashmir with troops, cancelled some of the constitutional rights people there had. And Harris said the world is watching. And that small comment in the Democratic primaries really sent jitters through the ruling party here that maybe Harris would be more of an activist on something that previous U.S. administrations had kind of considered an internal Indian matter. Nevertheless, most analysts believe Biden and Harris will not rock the boat; that India is an important strategic partner to the U.S., and nobody’s going to jeopardize that.

SHAPIRO: Do Biden and Modi have a personal history given Biden’s long experience in government, including as vice president?

FRAYER: They do. So Modi was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Biden back in November. He tweeted a picture of them hugging, and Modi has tweeted again in response to the inauguration, sending the warmest congratulations to Joe Biden.

SHAPIRO: That’s NPR’s Lauren Frayer in Mumbai.

Thanks a lot.

FRAYER: You’re welcome.

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