Finding it difficult to defend the Trump administration’s policies as a diplomat especially over race and immigration, Sri Preston Kulkarni last December decided to quit his dream job at the US state department to run for Congress.
Kulkarni, whose family traces its roots to Maharashtra and Karnataka, on his website said he spent his career trying to reduce conflict in other countries…”but right now hostility and conflict are being inflamed in our own country through the politics of anger and demagoguery”.
“I have worked under Democratic and Republican administrations before, but the current situation is different and should concern all Americans of conscience,” he said on his website.
After quitting his job, Kulkarni announced that he will run for the 22nd Congressional District of Texas, to be part of the policy making, and not implementing them.
Six months later, he won the Democratic primary and is pitching for a tough battle against five-term Republican incumbent Pete Olson.
“There is a little bit of nervousness on the other side about (my) campaign,” Kulkarni told PTI.
Kulkarni’s family immigrated to the US in 1969 to Louisiana, where he was born in 1978. Soon thereafter they moved to Houston, where Kulkarni grew.
After completing his college, he joined the US foreign service in 2003 and has worked in various capacities in both inside the US and overseas. This summer he was posted for the important position of the spokesperson of the US Embassy in New Delhi.
Being an Indian-American, representing the US was very important, he said.
“But I think the 2016 election for me actually drove home as some of these issues are still unresolved for America,” he said.
“During that election, there was so much anti-immigrant sentiment being spread that it was a real blow to me personally. When I came back to the State Department, I said (to myself) ‘I’m just going to continue to be a professional and I’m going to do this job’,” he said.
But, there were two incidents that changed his mind and made him feel that he couldn’t continue in the State Department.
“One was the Charlottesville rally one year ago where we had Nazis in the street screaming about white supremacy and my government could not make a clear distinction. That’s absolutely morally unequivocally awful. I was asked to explain this when I was overseas. Why is it that they’re very fine people who were Nazis and why is it that both sides are the same? I couldn’t do that,” Kulkarni said.
At the rally last summer, white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed in the streets before a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester.
The second was the Roy Moore campaign, Kulkarni recollected.
“He was molesting 14-year-old girls and he said that our families are stronger when we had slavery and that Muslims shouldn’t be able to hold a public office in the United States. To me that’s just beyond what’s acceptable in the kind of democracy and the kind of society that I believe in,” he said.
Moore was the Republican nominee in the 2017 US Senate special election in Alabama to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Moore, who had faced multiple allegations of sexual assault during his campaign was backed by president Donald Trump. Later he lost to Democratic candidate Doug Jones.
At the time of these incidents, Kulkarni was in Jamaica on a temporary assignment. His next posting was at the US Embassy in New Delhi as its spokesperson. “
“I decided that I was going to resign to come back home and run for office. Because I think we need to stand up against this idea that we should be divided up by, by race, by ethnicity, and that some people are less American than other people. That’s when I started the campaign,” Kulkarni said.
Kulkarni resigned from the foreign service in December.
Kulkarni says that its not about just one person, Trump as an individual.
“It is more about these ideas that we should be divided against each other, Muslim versus Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Hindu versus Christian or black versus white or Asian versus white. That ideas are the more dangerous thing than a person,” he said.
He said the social fabric of America was being torn apart and Americans were blaming immigrants for everything.
“If the fight is against illegal immigrants, then why H-1B programme is being threatened. Why are we trying to reduce legal immigration and family reunification?” he asked.
“It doesn’t have to do with illegal immigration. That has to do with anti-immigrant sentiment. The anti-immigrant sentiment is something that should worry all of us because we are an immigrant country and honestly, without immigrants, most of our fortune 500 companies wouldn’t be here,” Kulkarni said.
“But whenever any group is discriminated against, it’s a threat to all minority groups. If a Muslim is being discriminated against, it still affects me as a Hindu,” Kulkarni said.
Now running an effective campaign, Kulkarni, pollsters say has considerably reduced the poll numbers against his rival Olson, who is considered to be a friend of India in the US Congress.
Kulkarni, who is a cousin of BJP member of Parliament Poonam Mahajan, hopes that the entire community would come out to vote in November.