Back in August, during the first 2024 Republican presidential primary debate that frontrunner Donald Trump opted to skip, Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old biotech investor and political rookie, emerged as the central figure, much to the chagrin of other much-experienced candidates.
His towering presence on stage quickly earned the wrath of his competitors who shifted their focus from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to Ramaswamy. When former New Jersey governor Chris Christie equated him to ChatGPT, Ramaswamy suggested that the former New Jersey governor seemed to be auditioning for a show on MSNBC, a big slight for hardcore Republicans. He taunted Nikki Haley, who advocated continued American support for Ukraine, by saying that she was eyeing lucrative positions with defence contractors who wanted to prolong the war.
The 38-year-old biotech investor, a self-made billionaire and a self-proclaimed 'anti-woke warrior, has since come a long way, attracting a great deal of grassroots support. According to CNN, Ramaswamy now is next to Trump with 13 per cent support, closely followed by Haley at 12 per cent and Christie at 11 per cent. Ramaswamy's base is more among those who are not registered Republicans and younger likely voters.
With the second Republican primary debate a week away, which Ramaswamy seems to have already qualified, the Indian-American presidential candidate could be at the receiving end of another barrage of attacks from fellow competitors.
Born and raised in Ohio to parents who emigrated from India, Ramaswamy has openly taken a nationalistic stance and claims he will "unapologetically embrace and advance the ideals that this nation was founded on". His positions on burning issues like the Ukraine war, and relations with China and the FBI (that it should be abolished) have found him favour within the GOP support base.
On the Ukraine war, he believes the West should strike a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "What I think we need to do is end the Ukraine war on peaceful terms that, yes, do make some major concessions to Russia, including freezing those current lines of control in a Korean-war style armistice agreement," he told ABC News in June.
With regard to China, Ramaswamy is going for "economic independence" from Beijing, which many say is bad news for the U.S. support for Taiwan.
Another controversial stance of Ramaswamy, which will directly impact Indians, is his idea of gutting the H-1B visa system, the one used by employers to hire skilled foreign workers in the US. He believes it is "a form of indentured servitude that only accrues to the benefit of the company," and that it needs to be replaced by "meritocratic admission".
Ramaswamy was criticised for these comments, particularly because he used the same programme to hire workers for his pharmaceutical company, Roivant Sciences.
A large share of these H-1B work permits issued each year goes to Indian residents and the companies and Indians reportedly made up to 73% of the 4.42 lakh H-1B workers in the 2022 fiscal year.
But that notwithstanding, Ramaswamy bats for a better relationship with India as a means to declare "independence from that Chinese relationship." He wants a stronger strategic relationship with India, including even a military relationship in the Andaman Sea.
Ramaswamy has also been vocal about his support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and never shied away from flaunting his Hindu faith. "I was raised in a belief system where there is one true God who empowers each of us with our own capacities," he said. "As we say in the Hindu tradition, God resides in each one of us. In the Christian tradition, you say we’re all made in the image of God," Ramaswamy told voters during a campaign trail.
Born in Cincinnati as the child of immigrants from Kerala, Ramaswamy grew up speaking Tamil at home with his religious parents who performed pujas. His relatives in Vadakkanchery in the Thrissur district fondly remember Ramaswamy flying down to spend holidays with relatives. The last time he came down was in 2018 with his wife Apoorva and their two children.
While it is a fact that Ramaswamy is having his moment now, many have endorsed the idea that Trump picks him as the running mate. But, Ramaswamy has so far said that he is "not interested in a different position in the government." "I'm not looking at this as building my own career," he added.
That said, a section of US media believe Ramaswamy is Trump's heir apparent. "He's had tremendous success so far going from ... zero point zero in the polls to the third place, or in some polls, second place," GOP strategist Dave Carney was quoted by NPR.
"Half of the vote is still available to non-Trump voters and Ramaswamy is "taking up oxygen" right now. He is dominating a lot of conversation, non-Trump conversation," Carney said. "So it makes it more difficult for anyone else to get their message out."