After weeks of efforts by US President Donald Trump to overturn the result, the Electoral College this week affirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 American election. With that, the focus is set to shift in a major way to the incoming team nominated by Biden to help run a country that has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, hit hard by the subsequent economic downturn and left deeply divided by the outgoing president.
As Indian-origin senator Kamala Harris readies to take over as the Vice President of the United States, representation of the community in US politics has been put under significant limelight. However, Harris will not be the only Indian-American in President Joe Biden’s administration when he takes over the White House in January 2021.
The most high-profile name after Harris has been Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget, a choice that has raised eyebrows.
But the list includes several doctors on Biden’s Covid-19 task force, a number of Indian-Americans likely to head major departments in a Cabinet that the incoming president has promised will be the most diverse yet and one high-profile nominee who is controversial for both the left and the right.
Here are the Indian-Americans playing roles, either as part of the transition or in the incoming administration.
As the co-chairperson of the President-elect’s Covid-19 task force, Dr Vivek Murthy is one of the highest-ranked Indian-Americans among Biden’s advisory boards. He has also been appointed to serve as the Surgeon General of the United States under the Biden administration – a post he held previously too. Murthy was the 19th Surgeon General of the United States from 2014-2017, the first person of Indian origin to be appointed to the position. In the past, he has also commanded a uniformed service of 6,600 public health officers globally as the Vice-Admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Murthy’s appointment as the co-chief of Biden’s Covid-19 task force was hailed as a “remarkable moment in America’s history” by Sanjeev Joshipura, the Indians for Biden National Council National Director, Medical Dialogues reported.
Murthy will be the co-chairperson of Biden’s Covid-19 task force alongside Dr David Kessler and Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Assisting Murthy, Kessler, and Nunez-Smith in their efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the US will be a team of healthcare professionals, including Dr Atul Gawande of Indian origin. Apart from being a surgeon and a professor, Gawande has also been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1998.
Gawande was born to immigrant doctor parents of Marathi origin and grew up in Ohio’s Athens town. Apart from graduating from the Harvard Medical School, he also spent time at Oxford University in the United Kingdom studying philosophy and politics as a Rhodes scholar.
Gawande’s association with politics goes way back in time. In the past, he has worked in the field of healthcare policy with Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper, and was also an integral part of former US President Bill Clinton’s healthcare task force. Gawande currently works as a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
Dr Celine Gounder is another Indian-American who will be a part of Biden’s Covid-19 task force. As with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Gounder has mixed ethnic roots – her father, Dr Raj Natarajan Gounder, hailed from a village in Erode district of Tamil Nadu. He moved to the US in the 1960s and married a French citizen in 1972, Deccan Herald reported. Chennai-based newspaper DT Next reported that Raj Natarajan Gounder was an aerospace engineer and the first person from his village to earn a college degree.
Gounder is an expert on infectious diseases and HIV and dons multiple other roles too – she heads a non-profit multimedia organisation and also hosts a podcast on health and social justice. The doctor has first-hand experience of handling another pandemic too – in 2015, she volunteered as an Ebola aid worker in Guinea. Apart from Ebola, and now Covid-19, Gounder has studied tuberculosis and HIV in South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Brazil. In 2017, Gounder was included in People Magazine’s list of “25 women changing the world”.
Gounder’s appointment to Biden’s Covid-19 task force was hailed by several politicians in Tamil Nadu.
Gounder’s decision to retain her caste-based last name has occasionally come up for discussion from those in India and the US who believe it is problematic, prompting a response on the matter by the nominee herself in Novermber:
Scientist and professor Arun Majumdar has been nominated by Biden to lead the Department of Energy review team. The 21-member team will also review the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Majumdar is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay where he received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1985. He then completed his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989.
Majumdar is a professor at Standford University’s Departments of Mechanical Engineering. He is also a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, US National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In October 2009, Majumdar was nominated by former President of the US Barack Obama to become the Founding Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, where he served till June 2012. He has also worked as the Vice President for Energy at Google where he focussed on the intersection of data, computing and electricity grid.
Bloomberg has reported that Majumdar is also on the shortlist to become the Energy Secretary of the US in the Biden administration.
Dr Rahul Gupta is leading the Office of National Drug Control Policy transition team in the Biden-Harris administration.
Gupta is the senior vice president and chief medical officer of March of Dimes, a nonprofit organisation that works to improve the health of mothers and babies.
According to The Org, Gupta was born in India and studied medicine at the University of Delhi, and then went on to complete his internship and residency at St Joseph Hospital, Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.
Gupta’s claim to fame was West Virginia’s opioid crisis response when he worked as the state’s chief health officer from 2015-2018.
Lawyer and activist Kiran Ahuja will head the Office of Personnel Management transition team, which will also review the Office of Government Ethics, the Office of Special Counsel, the Administrative Conference of the United States, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Federal Thrift Retirement Investment Board.
Ahuja grew up in Savannah, Georgia as an Indian immigrant. She was appointed as the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2009.
Ahuja is well-known for her work in improving the lives of women of colour. She also served as the founding executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum from 2003-2008.
Apart from Majumdar, Gupta, and Ahuja, quite a few Indian Americans have made it to the transition teams as members. A few of them include Bhavya Lal who will be a part of the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration teams, Puneet Talwar in the Department of State team, Pav Singh in the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy team, Arun Venkataraman in the Department of Commerce, Office of the United States Trade Representative teams, and Aneesh Chopra in the United States Postal Service team.
Indian-American Mala Adiga has been selected as the policy director for soon-to-be First Lady Jill Biden, making her yet another person of Indian descent to be appointed to a position of importance in President Biden’s administration. She was also a senior policy advisor to President-elect Biden’s 2020 election campaign.
Jill Biden is an educator, and Adiga has experience overseeing a wide range of international educational programs in the US, including the Fulbright and Gilman Programs.
Adiga’s roots can be traced back to Udupi district in Karnataka, news agency PTI reported. Her father Ramesh Adiga had arrived in the United States as a vascular surgeon when he was 25. Her mother Jaya Adiga studied medicine in Vellore, Tamil Nadu.
Adiga belongs to the family of former chairman of Karnataka Bank K Suryanarayana Adiga, and is also related to Man Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga.