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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Kamala Harris: A Look At Joe Biden’s Running Mate

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Kamala Harris giving a speech | Source: Twitter

On August 11, Democratic Party’s nominee for the US Presidential election. Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate for vice president. Her selection preceded a lot of noises from within democratic party’s grass-root workers and progressive leaders to choose a woman of colour for the VP position. This was taken as a show of support for the progressive causes  for which Joe Biden nd Democratic Party stand with full force.

Here’s a look at the life and policies of Kamala Harris, who could be the first woman to occupy the position of Vice President of the USA.

Kamala Harris (L) with her mother—Shyamala Gopalan (C) and Sister—Maya Harris (L) | Source: IndiaAbroad

Kamala Harris was born to immigrant parents who came to the USA as students in the 1960s and stayed on to fulfil their dreams. Her Father came from Jamaica in 1961 to pursue economics from UC Berkeley, while her mother came from India in 1958 to pursue research in endocrinology and breast cancer, also from UC Berkeley. They met and married during the social protest movement in the 1960s but got separated while Kamala was only seven years old. Her mother never remarried and took great care of Kamala and her sister Maya.

Kamala’s mother belonged to one of the highest social classes, the Tamil Brahmin but raised both of her daughters as Black American. She kept her contact with the family back in Chennai (earlier known as Madras), India, which continued with Kamala as well.

Kamala spent much of her childhood in Montreal, Quebec, Canada after her parents divorce. After graduating high school she attended Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a well-known Black sorority. She married Douglas Emhoff, an attorney, in 2014. Her sister is currently a lawyer, an MSNBC political analyst, and has worked with Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

She was the district attorney general of San Francisco and attorney general of California, and was the first Black woman to hold those positions. She went into the profession apparently because she wanted to change the law enforcement system from the inside. Over the years she has repeatedly referred to herself as a “top cop,” though she also prefers “progressive prosecutor.” She became a member of the Senate and has been running for President since 2016.

Her stance on several policies has changed over the years. During her prosecutor years she occupied a classic centrist stance: she supported some reforms to the criminal justice system, which was unique in an era of “tough on crime” policies (that often had racist undertones), but at the same time she tried to keep favour with police officers and unions— perhaps due to her nature as a prosecutor, and was often silent on bills which might have be seen as too polarised towards one end of the spectrum.

Her more well-acclaimed decisions came in the form of programs such as anti-bias training, Open Justice and Back on Track. Open Justice is an online portal that makes various criminal justice data, such as deaths and injuries in police custody, available to the public. Back on Track was about a year long program aimed at young and first-time low-level offenders, offering to waive jail time if they went to school, got a job, and other such goals.

It might be worth noting that a lot of Harris’ actions focus on what can be done after an arrest is made and before incarceration, which inherently means that reducing police brutality and reforming prisons have not yet been great strengths of hers. Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights activists have looked up to Harris, a Black woman in a position of power, to lead the change in terms of legislature, but have come out with mixed results. Most of them feel that Harris strives for some reform but never gets too bold, and essentially ends up upholding the status quo.

For instance, around 2015, she made body-worn cameras mandatory for all of the small percentage of special agents employed by the attorney general, but did not support a bill to make them mandatory for all police officers in California, stating that she opposed a “one-size-fits-all approach.” Some of her other decisions while she was a prosecutor have been questioned in recent debates, such as her anti-truancy law, and the evolution of her opinion on marijuana.

Harris has spoken out in support of Kashmiris under Indian occupation after the revocation of article 370. Biden has been critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act. However, she has also described the India-US relationship as “unbreakable”, and even tweeted a welcome message for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his visit to India in June 2017.

Biden’s choice of Harris as his running mate for vice president is considered by her supporters as symbolic and historic due to her identity as a Black Asian-American and the representation she brings to a powerful stage. Her critics however, have been skeptical due to her career as someone who worked very closely with law enforcement.

Harris, like any other politician, has a checkered past which deserves scrutiny. Those who are rooting for or against her deserve to know about the different aspects of her political, social and other policy positions which helped evolve into the politician she is today and the direction in which she is expected to move in the future. This will be essential for her to appeal to a wider population and add to the votes for Joe Biden in the November 2020 Presidential poll.

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October 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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