The Indian-American decade

In the 2010 census, the population of Indian-Americans will surpass that of American Indians. Jack Knott, the South Carolina State senator who called Nikki Haley a "raghead," will want to take note. As will George Allen, who derailed his Senate re-election by calling a young Indian-American "Macaca."

Messrs. Knott and Allen may not have noticed, but the next decade is set to be the Indian-American decade. Second generation Indian-Americans are building on their parents' success and achieving in diverse fields. From Ms. Haley's political success (she is the likely Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina) to prime-time TV, its hard to miss the rise of Indian-Americans.


As late as the 1990s, there was only one notable Indian-American character on TV, a cartoon character, Apu on "The Simpsons." From the lovable, Slurpee-peddling Apu, we now have an Indian-American on a major TV show each night of the week. From Mindy Kaling on "The Office" to Naveen Andrews on "Lost" to Aziz Ansari on "Parks and Recreation" to Kunal Nayyar on "Big Bang Theory," Indian-Americans are suddenly everywhere.

Growing up in the Maryland suburbs in the 1970s and 1980s, it would have been tough to imagine Indian-Americans on TV every night — or any night. In the mid-'70s, my parents were among the first Indian-American families to move to Columbia. My sister and I lived a full, suburban life, but there were few other Indian-Americans. At school, we would have to explain that we didn't belong to a tribe (a caste maybe, but not a tribe), that we were Indian-Americans from Asia, not American Indians.


Given that many Indian-Americans came to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s as engineers and doctors, it's no surprise that they populate Silicon Valley. Ram Shriram and Vinod Khosla are billionaire venture capitalists with a Midas touch. Walk into any Silicon Valley start-up or powerhouse and you are likely to find plenty of Indian-Americans. An alumni meeting of the vaunted Indian Institute of Technology is as likely to have as many people show up in Palo Alto as Delhi or Mumbai.

Indian-Americans also played starring roles in the financial upheaval of 2008. The dashing Neel Kashkari was George Bush's man in doling out the bailout money. And in the great Galleon hedge fund scandal, half the villains were Indian-Americans. But not to fear, the most powerful district attorney in the United States prosecuting the financial miscreants, was — wait for it — an Indian-American, Preet Bharara.

Turn on the TV news or read the newspaper and you are likely to read or see an Indian-American. Growing up reading The Washington Post, I would strain to find any mention of Indian-Americans. Today, Raju Narisetti is the managing editor. Fareed Zakaria is one of the most influential foreign policy commentators in the U.S. And Hari Sreenivasan is one of the anchors of PBS's nightly news show.

The most influential doctor in the U.S. may be Sanjay Gupta, of CNN and "Paging Dr. Gupta" fame. And there's a good chance the most influential doctor in your own life is from India; nearly 1 out of 10 doctors in the U.S. are Indian-American.

Dr. Gupta nearly joined the Obama administration as surgeon general. But even without him, the Obama administration is not lacking in Indian-Americans. The United States chief technology officer and head of USAID are Indian-American. Kal Penn moved from Hollywood to Washington, bringing a note of glamour into the White House.

Closer to home, the leader of the Maryland House of Delegates is Kumar Barve; Maryland, as usual, is ahead of the curve. Indian-Americans have been elected to the state legislatures in Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wyoming. And the most famous Indian-American politician to date is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was on the short list of Republican vice presidential candidates in 2008.

Indian-Americans don't just win elections; they win national spelling bees, including 9 of the last 25. Indian-Americans have also taken home three Nobel Prizes. At any Ivy League school, more than 5 of the population is Indian-American, quadruple the share of the national population.

And now Nikki Haley is poised to join Bobby Jindal as the second Indian-American to be a governor. Given her poise, she may well join Mr. Jindal on the short list of Republican vice-presidential candidates in 2012. Republicans and Democrats should take notice: Indian-Americans vote, donate money and have a great talent pool of candidates.


Haley/Jindal in 2016, anyone?

Prashant Agrawal is a contributing editor and the business columnist for GQ India and a former a senior consultant at the hedge fund manager McKinsey and Co. His e-mail is