by Sunita Sohrabji – Oct 24, 2019 (IndiaWest.com)
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign team recently released a video of Indian American volunteer Surajit Bose, founder of the twitter group “Desis for Pete.”
“Surajit spent over a year taking care of his husband as he died and then another year in mourning. Getting involved with ‘Pete For America’ has given him purpose,” tweeted Team Pete HQ as it released the video Oct. 10. The video has been viewed more than 26,000 times over the past week.
Bose, a Sunnyvale, Calif., resident who lived in South Bend for 11 years while attending graduate school and then teaching, said in the video: “What’s been scary to me over the past three or four years is that I see so much negativity, so much change in the wrong direction. I see lines being drawn about what’s acceptable and what’s not.”
“I feel it’s really important for the country to have a vision of positivity, to have the values of freedom, security, and democracy that Pete talks about,” said Bose in the video, adding: “My personal goal is to advance that sort of meaningful political change in this country.”
Bose also said in the video that he never expected to see in his lifetime an openly gay man — with a husband — running for president.
In a wide-ranging interview with India-West, Bose, who was born in Mumbai and came to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend to study English literature, discussed his enthusiasm for ‘Mayor Pete’s’ presidential bid and how he became a volunteer with the campaign.
Buttigieg, who started out as a “dark horse” candidate, has steadily increased his visibility, polling fourth behind favorite Joe Biden, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, in Politico’s latest poll released Oct. 18. He has amassed a campaign war-chest of $51 million, ahead of Warren, and $10 million behind Sanders. Buttigieg has also raised $14 million more than Biden, currently the front-runner in the race.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the daughter of an Indian American cancer researcher, placed fifth in the money race, amassing $35 million over three quarters.
Several prominent Indian Americans have also joined the Buttigieg campaign team, including Swati Mylavarapu, who serves as National Investment Chair; Policy Director Sonal Shah, who served in the Obama White House; Avika Dua, who serves on the digital ad team; Hari Sevugan, the deputy campaign manager for brand and media; Shreyes Seshasai, Engineering Director; and Aalok Kanani, director of Pete for America.
Bose first met Pete as a 10-year-old: his father Joe was chair of the English Department at Notre Dame and his son, described by Bose as a “pudgy, bespectacled boy,” would come in frequently for visits. “I had no idea he would be president some day,” Bose mused.
Finding South Bend’s chilly winters to be daunting, Bose was offered and accepted a job at Stanford University. He moved to Sunnyvale, Calif., to teach, while also re-igniting his passion for Indian classical music.
In 2004, Bose met his future husband Zephyr, who shared his passion for music. Within six months, the two had moved in together, and in 2013, they married at Santa Clara County Court House with a group of friends in tow.
“He made me so happy every time he walked into the room. So many people have told me we belong together,” Bose told India-West.
But happiness was short-lived. Bose’s husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015. After a two-year battle, he died at home in 2017.
“After he died, I didn’t know what to do. For so long, my entire day had been structured around him. I drifted for a year. I could not muster the passion to do anything,” he said.
Bose had rightly predicted that Trump would win. “My view of America is shaped by South Bend, the heartland of America.”
“Coastal elites do not understand middle America. I know what living on $20,000 a year and having no future looks like,” he said, recalling the residents of his former hometown. “The ‘Make America Great Again’ rhetoric plays very well to that, with its vision of hope,” he said.
Bose lauded Buttigieg for his ‘holistic’ vision of America’s future. Back in 2011, when the candidate was running for his first mayoral campaign, Bose said he was surprised that a Harvard-educated man would come back to his hometown to develop the city.
South Bend had many abandoned homes then: Buttigieg promoted the ‘1,000 homes in 1,000 days,’ initiative in which old and abandoned homes were torn down to build new ones.
The initiative garnered much criticism from racial minorities who believed they had been forced out of their homes in the Buttigieg administration’s attempts to gentrify the city.
As the 2020 race began taking shape, Bose found himself once again re-examining Buttigieg’s record and platform. And he found himself wanting to get involved.
“I thought whatever happens in the next election, I have to be a voice that speaks out. I was ripe for finding a candidate I could fall in love with and really get behind,” Bose told India-West. “Pete is the calm, measured tone of the Midwest,” he said, lauding the candidate for his deep understanding of both foreign and domestic issues.
“He’s the candidate that can go the distance and bring people together. Pete has a vision of what America should look like and how to get us there,” said Bose.