By choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate despite the acrimony between them, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has sought to reach out to several constituencies – the African-American bloc that the Senator from California has carefully cultivated on the basis of her father’s Jamaican roots, the Indian-American community that feels an occasional affinity to her because of her mother’s origins, the larger community of immigrants by virtue of her having been the child of one, women who have long sought a seat at the high table of politics, and finally those Americans who see in her hard-nosed prosecutorial style a no-nonsense politician.
One another factor that will influence voters is the fact that Senator Harris appears to possess the credentials to step into the Oval Office should Mr Biden, whose health is a matter of some speculation, be incapacitated. Thus, as the sum of many parts, Senator Harris appears to offer something to various sections of voters and that may well be the reason she was picked despite her having called Mr Biden a racist in Democratic primaries.
While history has not been kind to woman candidates for the job, both Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were part of losing bids, perhaps the time has come for America to have a woman Vice-President, indeed one who might on some day occupy the top office.
But while her multi-faceted persona offers something to different sections, it may also act as a deterrent because there are some who believe that Senator Harris chooses to be what the occasion demands, that indeed her carefully-crafted political career has been one of playing to different galleries with different scripts.
She and her sister grew up with their mother, a Tamilian from Chennai, but she sought to emphasise her African American roots by attending Howard University, once called America’s “black” university.
The Trump camp has been quick to dub her as “Phony Kamala”, a theme it is likely to be revisited often as the campaign gathers pace. Indians rejoicing at the selection of Senator Harris might do well to bear this in mind as well as that many Indian-Americans had felt greater affinity to Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who is Hindu by faith but has no Indian blood, than to her in Democratic primaries.
Paradoxically and from the perspective of India’s strategic interests, a Biden-Harris combination is likely to prove more challenging in some respects than a second Trump presidency. The incumbent is at least a known devil from New Delhi’s perspective and sees a role for India in his scheme of things in the Indo-Pacific, even though his misbegotten remarks have sometimes been both intemperate and inconsistent.
While Mr Biden has been a champion of Indo-US ties and will seek to enhance them, he has also taken a critical public position on the Citizenship Amendment Act and sought restoration of the rights of Kashmiris, sore points both with the Indian establishment. Senator Harris had last year slammed External Affairs Minister S Jaishanker for his refusal to meet Congresswoman Premila Jayapal who had moved a resolution in the House of Representatives on Kashmir.