SAN JOSE (TIP): US Congressional election in Silicon Valley this year was being seen as a two-person race between incumbent Congressman Mike Honda (Democrat) and his main challenger Rohit “Ro” Khanna (Democrat) until recently. It all changed when Dr. Vanilla Mathur Singh (Republican), a member of Hindu American Foundation (HAF), entered the race in December 2013.
The HAF first made headlines in 2005 with its failed attempt in California state to “improve 6th grade textbooks so that these books actually reflect their (Hindu) beliefs and their religious practices.” Media reports indicate that Singh was recruited to run by Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, a Chicago-based Indian-American businessman and Republican fundraiser.
Kumar is the founder of a super PAC, Indian Americans for Freedom, with close ties to Hindu Nationalists. He has been lobbying members of US Congress to help rehabilitate his “idol” Narendra Modi of India’s Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi has been denied US visa multiple times by the State Department because of his widely suspected role in the killing of thousands of Muslims in 2002 Gujarat riots.
Singh said that she raised $100,000 in the five days after declaring her candidacy, including $25,000 of her own money. The rest, she said, came from about “20 family and friends.” Kumar’s super PAC could change the dynamics of the South Bay race if he chooses to back Singh financially. In 2002, his super PAC spent $500,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., including producing an ad set to Middle Eastern music that showed the double amputee Iraq war veteran wearing a headscarf during a visit to a local Muslim community center.
Ro Khanna, a Silicon Valley patent attorney of Indian origin, is backed by many of Silicon Valley’s top VCs and executives at Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other tech companies. Other Notables include Marc Andreessen, the Netscape co-founder; John Doerr, the venture capitalist; and Randi Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Zuckerberg Media and the sister of Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker, former President pf Facebook.
Four months before the primary, Khanna has $1,975,000 in cash on hand, or more than triple the incumbent’s $623,000, according to campaign finance records filed last Friday as reported by the New York Times. Khanna supporters expect him to win to push legislation in Congress to liberalize US visas for foreign workers needed to fill Silicon Valley tech jobs. He supports raising the number of H1-B visas, keeping a lid on capital gains taxes and cracking down on patent trolls while charting a progressive agenda on most social issues.
Faced with the surprise new challenge from the Hindu Right, Ro Khanna has refused to denounce Narendra Modi for fear of alienating a significant chunk of the substantial pro-BJP Indian-American voters in Silicon Valley. Mike Honda, the incumbent congressman from 17th district, is a Japanese-American who was put by the United States in an internment camp as a child during World War II. He has been a featured speaker at many Muslim- American events where he has spoken out for American Muslims’ civil rights since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
During a 2009 keynote speech at Human Development Foundation fund-raiser that I attended, Congressman Honda said the US foreign policy should have the same goals that the HDF has in Pakistan. Drawing from his experience as a US peace corps volunteer to support education and infrastructure development in Central America in the 1960s, he proposed a similar effort in restoring US credibility in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Honda praised the US emphasis on economic aid and said he supports the 80/20 rule that General Petraeus had outlined, with 80% emphasis on the political/economic effort backed by 20% military component to fight the Taliban insurgency. Honda says he has been a strong advocate for the tech industry in Congress.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, he helped get millions of dollars in funding for BART extension to San Jose, a top priority for Valley leaders, as well as federal investment in nanotechnology research. His strong backing from organized labor and veteran Democrats reflects the decades he’s spent in public service. Honda also supports an increase in H1-B visas, although he’s also expressed concerns about its potential harm to the local labor pool.
A number of polls in 17th district so far show that Honda enjoys a healthy lead over his challenger Khanna. Honda’s lead could increase if Singh takes a significant chunk of Indian- American votes away from Khanna. In spite of a powerful tech industry funded challenge by Ro Khanna, Honda remains a favorite to win. Honda also enjoys the strong endorsement of President Obama and Democratic Party’s establishment. Singh’s entry in the race could further help Honda extend his lead and keep his seat in Congress. I intend to vote for Mike Honda based on the Congressman’s strong record of service to Silicon Valley and his unambiguous pro-civil rights stance.