by Bhamy V. Shenoy
Under the leadership of Mallik Putcha, an IITM alumnus, a meet and greet event with Sri Preston Kulkarni was organized on February 9 at Indian Summer (Madras Pavilion) in Sugar Land. Objective of the event was to discuss how alumni like us from IITs can support the campaign of democratic candidate Sri Kulkarni for Congressional District 22.
It may be useful to recall what Houston Chronicle wrote while endorsing Sri “Overall, Olson has come to represent all the worst instincts of U.S. politics while Kulkarni represents our politics at its best”.
Some of us felt that there is some sinister design behind the contest of an Indian origin candidate in Republican primary to pull potential votes from Sri Kulkarni. This was all the more shocking when that candidate had wholeheartedly supported Sri in his 2018 election.
In 2019, Sri had visited India and IITM was one of the academic institutions where he spent a day interacting with students and research group. He returned with fond memories of stunning natural beauty of IITM campus.
Inspired by the great sacrifice of Sri resigning from much coveted US foreign service to serve his mother land, many are volunteering in his campaign. Discussion with Sri covered several topics where his in-depth knowledge with statistics completely bowled us.
Sri did not hesitate to respond to an inconvenient question about his view on CAA, NPR, NRC or human rights issue in Kashmir. He was forthright in telling us that he does not know much about these things, and he needs to spend time on things which affect his voters.
When he had experience and expertise from his work and studied the issues, he discussed his views on complex situations affecting US foreign policy in countries like Yemen, Israel, Ukraine, Russia, Iraq etc.
He narrated his experience of getting criticism while attending some community events. For example, he was criticized by some for attending “Howdy Modi” event. His response was that he also attended an event where Imran Khan was speaking via satellite and had attended several such events. Attending an event does not amount to supporting or endorsing any view. It was easy to appreciate the delicate balance someone like Sri has to make all the time.
When there seems to be a groundswell of support for Trump especially after the failed attempt to impeach him, how can a Democrat like him attract votes not only from Republicans but also from Independents?
When the tribalism seems to be the driving force to choose a candidate, how will even burning issues like health care (difficulty in securing insurance for those with preexisting health problems, reduction in Medicaid and Medicare funding), climate change, gun control, education, etc influence them? But we were convinced that Sri has sound policies to influence his voters.
During our discussion it became clear that Sri has thought deeply about these issues and has a winning game plan. Afterall during the last election he lost just by 4.9% against six terms incumbent Pete Olson who had won his previous election by a whopping 19% margin.
His “relational organization” of volunteers who can speak 16 languages succeeded in energizing different communities who never participated in large numbers to vote in earlier elections. With that experience and having identified local issues of flood control, improving traffic flow, education, etc he is in a far better position to attract even more voters this time.
We saw the decadence in the long held US values when all Re-publican senators with one exception voted to drop charges against Trump purely driven by “tribalism”. They ignored the wise words of Robert Kennedy, “Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt, because we are too busy or frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom, decency and justice”.
During the event it was refreshing to hear Sri emphasizing the US values by telling us how he is inspired by the above quote of Robert Kennedy. He feels strongly to balance different viewpoints since neither extremes of left and right can offer the optimum solution. They result in “absolutism” as has been experienced during Trump era. The Texas-22 congressional district is fortunate that they have an outstanding candidate to choose in Sri. and IIT alumni made the timely decision to organize the event.