There is no doubt that Kamala Harris, the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee and Joe Biden’s mate, is campaigning with energy and extraordinary enthusiasm. Her emphasis on the USA being divided between blacks and whites, apart from causing a flutter in the roost, is not correct. The country can be more accurately described as multi-coloured, comprising yellows, Indian browns, Hispanics of bright brownish hue and what not. When Biden invited her to be his running mate, she insistently declared herself to be a black. Lately, Harris has been talking of dosa and filter coffee, reflective of her association also with Chennai.
In Indian election campaigns, the contestants do not introduce themselves. The reasoning is that they are supposed to be leaders and therefore well known. They do not carry their visiting cards, as only unknown persons have to do that. Whether this practice applies to the USA or not I do not know, but I feel that the same reasoning is likely to apply in that country. Ms. Harris’ familiarity with American history is impressive, but it might have been better if she did not raise from the platform the issue of “one country 2 systems”. That must be so, but for a candidate it may not be desirable. Emphasizing the fact carries the peril of a likely polarisation of the electorate along the lines of black versus white.
For a white candidate, the remark could pass, but for a black lady to declare her deep sympathy for blacks would mark her as a clear proponent of identity. The opposition could retaliate by alleging that Kamala Harris has come out to represent the blacks of America. Biden could look after white interests. The others should fend for themselves. Carrying the logic further, a Republican Party vote or supporter could raise the question: what happens if Mr Biden happens to resign midway? Who would be President for 85 per cent of America? Mind you, these comments are based on Indian experience. To give an outstanding example, Babu Jagjivan Ram in his 34-yearlong career (1946-1979) in the Indian Cabinet, never once talked about his caste, or that he was a Dalit. His reasoning was that to become Prime Minister, he would have to have the support of all and various castes. The Dalits across India would not exceed 15 per cent. How far would that carry me, he would ask in private. Unfortunately, he did not become Prime Minister, but certainly retired from politics as Deputy Prime Minister of India in 1979.
Anybody who has a sensitive conscience would sympathise with the suffering the blacks have undergone for centuries. How they were captured from their homes and dragged out and sold to white traders who regularly visited West Africa. They were then packed into ships in abnormally large numbers as if they were goods and not living beings. There were no toilets for them in these ships because they occupied the holds and not the cabins. The result usually was abominable, apart from being terribly unhygienic. Before they reached the coasts of the New World, up to 30 per cent of the black passengers would have died; the dead bodies were flung into the ocean. There was no question of a coffin or any ceremony.
Fortunately, William Wilberforce, an active member of Britain’s House of Commons, spent most of his political career trying to abolish this barbaric trade in slaves. More fortunately, William Pitt the Younger was his friend. Pitt remained Prime Minister for 22 years and supported Wilberforce in his tryst with the abolition of the slave trade. Once England stopped trading in slaves, other countries too slowed down and stopped. Once the slaves were sold, the barbaric treatment suffered during the ship voyages no doubt stopped but the tale of long oppression began.
A glimpse of the oppression of slavery, is in many ways, eloquently depicted in the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. However well some masters and their families treated their slaves, they could not appreciate how miserable human life is as a slave, which is devoid of aspiration. Another facet of slavery from the work point of view is interesting. The Yankees or north Americans who ran industries came to the conclusion that the productivity of an average slave is less than that of a paid worker. In other words, it was better to employ and pay a wage than forcibly extract work out of a slave. This was one of the reasons why the Yankees supported abolition and even the Civil War. The Confederate southerners were obsessed with large labour forces to run their plantations, whether of cotton or other produce. No doubt, in the America of those early decades, so much manpower, other than the slaves, was not available.
For Ms Harris, it may be useful to praise President Barack Hussein Obama. To push the black point of view, of course, to talk about Floyd George and other murders would be music to the ears of black people. But such examples are likely to give offence to many white voters. He or she would feel that the candidate is trying to tease their conscience.
This is the same logic that influenced Babu Jagjivan Ram. In any case, it has been said by the wise that a victim is not his own best advocate. The other factor which Ms. Harris would be unaware of is that a brown person, whether Indian or any other, can be as prejudiced against blacks as some whites are. If she were to live in India for a little while, she would discover this herself.
An interesting question would be what might have been the calculation that motivated Joe Biden to select Kamala Harris as his running mate. The women’s vote is probably the largest segment in an American election. But then why has there been only one Presidential candidate so far? Hillary Clinton was expected to do well, but Donald Trump came from behind and overtook her at the last moment. Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, although articulate and active could not help Senator John McCain perform better; McCain eventually lost to Obama. For the success of the Biden team, a disproportionate responsibility rests on Kamala Harris’ shoulders. For one, he is old; for another, he has not shone with success in any presidential contest.
The fact that women have not been able to do better in American politics ought a subject of questioning and research by the Harris electoral team. The socalled South Asian subcontinent where India is, has done far better in this context. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister; so was Benazir Bhutto Prime Minister of Pakistan. Bangladesh has produced two women prime ministers, Sheikh Hasina Wajid and Begum Khaleda Zia and Sri Lanka threw up Sirimavo Bandarnaike and later her daughter Chandrika Kumartunga.
Could this be attributed to the fact that the Indian or Hindu civilization is almost unique in traditionally worshipping female deities? Eastern India is dominated by goddesses, beginning with Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Saraswati and many others. This is not a new phenomenon; in Vedic times, women were virtual equals of men, educationally and socially. All this, so much so, that even Islam in this region has been influenced by this Hindu tradition. Not merely Pakistan and Bangladesh, but even Indonesia and possibly Burma have been similarly influenced. Sukarnoputri Megawati has been Indonesia’s President while Aung San Suu Kyi is the State Counsellor (a position equivalent to Prime Minister) of Myanmar (Burma). Has religion been the inspiration in Asia? Otherwise, why should an advanced country like the United States of America been so much behind in this context of gender justice?