The Indian-Americans in Trump's White House ⬜🏠

The Indian-Americans in Trump's White House ⬜🏠

Drop #37

The Kumbh Mela in 2013. Flickr.

top of mind

This week's top of mind by inkmango reader Sheela Lal. Have a smart take on South Asia or South Asians around the world? Email us to get featured. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily our own.

If Indian-Americans are “people of color” — an identity US President Donald Trump constantly assaults — why are there so many in his White House?

Trump has appointed over 24 Indian-Americans to senior positions since he assumed office in 2017. For comparison, over the eight years of his two terms, President Barack Obama appointed just over 50, which means that Trump is on track to hire more Indian-Americans than Obama. Some academics consider the disproportionate number of Indian-Americans in Trump's administration a case of accidental diversity. After all, Indian-Americans tend to lean left: 77% voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 vs. 16% for Trump.

One potential appointee is Neomi Rao, whom Trump nominated for the US Court of Appeals — the seat Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh occupied — during the White House Diwali celebration in November. If confirmed, Rao would become the first Indian-American to serve on the appeals court, considered the "second most powerful court" in the country. Recently, Rao has come under fire for her views. She’s known for her support of “dwarf throwing" and comments about the “hysteria over date rape,” “multiculturalism,” and “ideological rigidity.”

However, conservative media is defending her appointment, and hinting that her ethnicity should add weight to her nomination and shows conservative progressivism. They highlight her identity as ”a woman of color" — ironically, a political term non-whites created to build solidarity against white supremacy and its byproducts.

Indian-Americans, seen as the epitome of the model minority, seem to move up quickly in both business and the Republican Party. Yet, we don’t question the caste and class privilege associated with migration. Why would we? That’s what got us here.

Agree? Disagree? Email us your comments at and we'll share some of the best ones.
around the block

POLITICS OPINION The malign incompetence of the British ruling class. Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger draws the parallel of hubris and rash exits between Britain leaving India in 1947 and its calamitous Brexit plan. He writes, "Such a pattern of egotistic and destructive behavior by the British elite flabbergasts many people today. But it was already manifest seven decades ago." Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip's uncle, also known as "Master of Disaster" presided over India's brutal Partition of 1947, moving up the date from June 1948 to August 15, 1947. In July 1947, British lawyer Cyril Radcliffe drew the boundaries of a country he had never visited. (NYT)

CULTURE OPINION How Hinduism has persisted for 4,000 years. Shashi Tharoor shares how the religion's decentralized dogma has allowed it to evolve and reinvent itself. "There is no Hindu pope, no Hindu Vatican, no Hindu catechism, not even a Hindu Sunday," Tharoor writes. His book Why I Am a Hindu came out last year. (WSJ)

POLITICS The mysterious plane crash that changed Pakistan. The Pakistani Air Force plane was airborne only a few minutes before it exploded on August 17, 1988, killing all 30 passengers, including Pakistan’s president Muhammad Zia-al-Huq, US ambassador Arnold Raphel, and most of Zia's cabinet. Since 1977, Zia had ruled Pakistan as a military dictator, rising to power by deposing and killing Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Benazir Bhutto's father). Zia encouraged Islamist groups and revised textbooks to focus on religion. Did his death give Pakistan a true shot at democracy? (OZY)

POLITICS Half a million attend Kolkata, India rally to oppose Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The "Unite India" rally on Saturday brought together leaders of 20+ national and regional parties to rail against Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. (Al Jazeera)

TECH Spotify strikes deal with YouTube's biggest success story, Bollywood music giant T-Series. Spotify’s global audience will gain access to T-Series’s entire Indian song catalog of 160k+ songs, including Bollywood and regional film soundtracks, non-film albums, and emerging artist content. This could push Spotify's India launch date earlier. T-Series has the world’s most-viewed YouTube channel, racking up 58b views and 80m+ subscribers since its 2006 launch. (Variety, TechCrunch)

TECH Samsung will launch its Galaxy M first in India on January 28. With its new budget smartphone, Samsung wants to regain market share from Xiaomi in the world's second largest smartphone market after China. Samsung’s mobile phone sales in India totaled $5.3b in the year ending March 2018. The Galaxy M will be priced from ₹10-20k ($142-248). The phone is designed for the "Indian millennial," with dual rear cameras and a fingerprint sensor. India is increasingly important for the South Korean company: last year, Samsung opened a manufacturing plant outside Delhi and its biggest mobile phone store in Bengaluru. (Reuters, TechCrunch, Verge)

TECH India's plan to curb hate speech could mean more censorship. India's Section 79 of the IT Act currently protects internet service providers and social media platforms from liability for the actions of their users. New proposed amendments to curb misinformation would compel internet companies to censor user content. The proposal also requires secure messaging services like WhatsApp to decrypt encrypted data for government use. This development has led nine streaming companies, including Netflix, to voluntary self-censor so the government won't intervene (more below). (Wired)

TECH Netflix and other streaming platforms will self-censor in India. Nine streaming platforms — including Netflix, Hotstar (soon to be acquired by Disney), Jio Cinema, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLIV, ALT Balaji, and Eros Now — have signed a "code of best practices" that pledges to self-regulate the content they publish online. This includes not publishing content that "disrespects the national emblem or national flag" of India, "intends to outrage religious sentiments," or "encourages terrorism." Amazon Prime, TVF Play, Yupp TV, Hungama Play did not sign the code. (CNN, Medianama, Hollywood Reporter)

CITY Motorbikes are oddly absent from central Yangon, Myanmar. A 2015 Pew survey of motorcycle ownership in 44 countries saw that the top seven countries were in Asia. Oddly, Yangon has had a mysterious, inexplicable motorbike ban since 2003. Though enforcement is questionable — police, who ride motorbikes, can turn a blind eye if they get bribes — businesses have to rely on bicyclers for delivery or wait in traffic with their four-wheelers. (Economist)

CULTURE The world's largest gathering, the Kumbh Mela, kicks off. From now until March, up to 120m will travel to Allahabad (Pragyaraj), Uttar Pradesh, India. During the two-month-long mass Hindu pilgrimage, attendees wash off their sins by bathing in the holy Ganges river. Despite the city's mela preparations, its air is still full of toxic dust. In fact, toxic smog continues to threaten India's tourism industry. (ABC, Time, CNN, BBC)

CULTURE A magazine's unlikely rebirth in Sri Lanka. After Himal founding editor Kanak Dixit was arrested in Nepal and the government froze the magazine's grant money in 2016, Himal collapsed. The magazine focused on “Southasia,” its word for the broader shared history of the region, and challenged authority early, including Burmese treatment of Rohingya in 2012. Now, it’s relaunching in Sri Lanka. (CJR)
→ For further reading, "The Slow Strangulation of a South Asian Magazine" (New Yorker, 12/20/2016)
we're also following...
movers & shakers

Narayan Murthy, Infosys cofounder, to get his own biopic

Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a Hindu Congressperson who also recently announced her bid for the 2020 presidency, apologized for her past LGBTQ remarks

Gita Gopinath joins the IMF as its first female chief economist

Malik Sajed, a graphic novelist from Kashmir, shares how renewed conflict in Kashmir is "blinding and killing the young" (one of the themes in our top five things brewing in 2019)

Thomas Kurian became the new CEO of Google Cloud this month; Alphabet may need to make serious acquisitions to remain competitive: Google has 8% of the cloud infrastructure market vs. AWS's 32% and Microsoft's 17%

Asif Saeed Khan Khosa takes the oath to become Pakistan's Chief Supreme Court Justice until the end of the year; he replaces Mian Saqib Nasir, who acquitted Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges last year
on our hit list

Read. Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra, who wrote this week's scathing NYT Opinion
Read. Lihaaf — a new magazine that publishes creative, political pieces by queer South Asian artists and writers
Watch. Parminder Nagra of Bend It Like Beckham fame in Bird Box
Live in NY. Shiraz: A Romance of India (1929) is playing at the Metrograph Jan. 18-24; Franz Osten directs an all-Indian cast in Jaipur in this fascinating archive
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