We may have an Indian American President some day: Neera Tanden

Ritu Jha-

Indian American Neera Tanden is a formidable woman with an even more formidable CV. At present, she is senior advisor and staff secretary to President Joe Biden, but she has not worked with just one major political personality.

Tanden, a former president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), has worked on several Democratic presidential campaigns, including those of Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992, and Barack Obama in 2008.

Tanden was a senior staffer to Hillary Clinton during her 2000 election to a United States Senate seat in New York, and during Clinton’s tenure as a Senator. Tanden advised Clinton during her run for the 2008 Democratic nomination, and later helped her defeat Bernie Sanders to win the nomination in 2016, and run against Donald Trump in the 2016 general election. In her government service with the Obama administration, Tanden helped draft the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

On October 15, Tanden was part of the 10th-anniversary celebrations of Indiaspora, a nonprofit network of global Indian-origin leaders from diverse backgrounds and professions committed to inspiring the diaspora to be a force for good. It was founded by MR Rangaswami in 2012, and its current executive director is Sanjeev Joshipura.

Tanden said at the San Jose, CA event that it is no accident that there are so many more Indian Americans in politics and business than ever before. “It is because we have an organization like Indiaspora working day in and day out to ensure that our community is everywhere and that we support each other,” she said.

She said, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu. Decisions are made by people sitting at the table.”

She said she is proud of working in the Biden White House and that she is part of decision-making on topics as important as immigration, education, healthcare, technology and business. “I am proud to be representative of the community but I am even more proud to be an Indian-American in the administration.”

Tanden was also one of the pioneers who helped the Indiaspora in its initial day’s inception.

She said, “Indiaspora is important and we have to have a seat at the table. We deserve the seat. But the time has come when we deserve not just one seat at the table.”

Talking to indica, Tanden shared about working with President Biden and how the Indian American community is growing in the White House.

Presidents have to take tough decisions, she told indica, whether it is domestic policy, economic policy or national security. “I have to work with the policy council and have to ensure that he has all the information he needs. He needs to connect with the right people in the room to make that decision.”

Tanden said that as senior advisor, her job is to make recommendations that we need to push forward, and “as part of the strategic team, I focus on new issues and new ideas and general advice if there is any problem with the legislation or new industry. We focus on the strategic goals.”

When she started working at the Clinton White House in 1992 at the age of just 27, she said there were very few Indians, “It’s remarkable to see the number of South Asians in the Biden-Harris administration,” she said.

Life was not easy for Tanden and her family. Her parents divorced when she was just five, and her mother Maya was on welfare for two years after that. But it was never the desire to become a doctor or engineer that most Indian parents wanted their children to become.

“I have been campaigning for presidents for three decades. It’s important for our communities to have leaders to sit at the table and make decisions because this decision is going to happen to us or with us,” she said.

Tanden said that it is extremely important for the Indian American community to have a Senator or even the President. “We already have an Indian American Vice President, and she really ensures a broad representation.”

“The current President believes strongly that the White House should look like America and that Indians are well represented in the White House. But it is more about getting the best people, with wide divergent experiences.”

She added, “With the current presidency going to last a year and a half, he is really looking for the best and the smartest people who reflect his core values.”

Do you disagree with him, indica asked him. “I do, but my view is he is the President and he has a lot more experience, so even if I have a great deal of difference in opinion, he is good at pushing back. The good thing about the team is that people have been in politics for such a long time that you can disagree with someone and still respect them.”

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