Kamala Harris’ ability to stick to her principles and her commitment to human rights are two qualities that will stand her in good stead if she and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden win the US elections, her uncle Gopalan Balachandran said on Wednesday.
Balachandran said much of Harris’ views on politics and civil rights were shaped by her strong-willed mother, Shyamala Gopalan, who went against convention by travelling to the US for studies in 1958, and her grandfather, PV Gopalan, who rose from a humble beginning as a stenographer to become a government official who was deputed to Zambia in the 1960s to help with a refugee crisis because of his experience in rehabilitating refugees from Pakistan.
In an interview at his home in New Delhi, which was virtually taken over by media crews on Wednesday following the news that Biden had picked Harris as his running mate, the 80-year-old academic who specialises in civil nuclear issues and economics said his strongest impression of his niece was her ability to stand her ground.
Referring to Harris’ decision in 2004, when she was serving as district attorney in San Francisco, not to seek the death penalty for the killer of a policeman despite opposition from the police union, Balachandran said: “The ability to stick to her principles and to convince those who opposed her logic to come to her side, that was my strongest impression of her.”
Harris’ commitment to human rights and justice is largely due to her mother Shyamala, who married Jamaican national Donald Harris after meeting him during the black civil rights movement of the 1960s. Balachandran, who has a PhD in economics and computer science from the University of Wisconsin, said his sister Shyamala was politically active in the US when it was unheard of for Indian-Americans to do so.
This commitment to rights issues has been reflected in Harris’ position against India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the situation in Kashmir, Balachandran said, acknowledging that she is unlikely to change her stance even if it upsets those in the corridors of power in New Delhi.
“She likes India, obviously her family is Indian but that doesn’t mean she gives a free pass to everything that India does. She will not accept somebody saying, ‘It’s done in India, so why are you stopping it?’ She’ll say, ‘Look it may be India but is something which should not be done, which is against my feelings’,” he added.
But Balachandran, who was earlier part of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and served as a consultant to the Americas division of the external aff