Aziz Haniffa a rare peek into
Preet Bharara gives
the office of the US Attorney
for the Southern District of
New York India Abroad February 10, 2012 Preet Bharara in his Manhattan office. He says as long as people think he is doing a good job and have him as US Attorney, he has no intention of seeking a political career
From the moment Preet Bharara took over as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he has created history — as the first Asian-American US Attorney in Manhattan, as the highest-ranking Indian-American law enforcement officer in the Indian immigrant experience, as a prosecutor who took on the biggest insider trading case on Wall Street,
But speak to him and you know that none of this plays on
his mind when he is doing his job. All that matters is doing
his job — which he loves — ‘the right way.’ A way that has
impressed even his fiercest opponents.
Bharara discusses his job, the rise to being a role model for
the community, his parents and his love for Bruce
Springsteen in an exclusive interview with India Abroad.
When President Barack Obama nominated you to be the
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, you created history on several fronts. Has it sunk in, or does it really matter?
I talked about it at my swearing in, and I’ve said many
times that I appreciate what it means to be the first Asian-American, or Indian-American US attorney in Manhattan,
nominated by the first African-American President. And it
means a lot to a lot of people.
What it mostly teaches me is — and as I say in a lot of public speeches — everything is possible in America. When you
have a name like Preet Bharara and you can still become the
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where
people who have held this position before have names like
Whitney North Seymour and Robert Morgenthau Jr, whose
photographs line the wall outside my office it tells you anything is possible. That’s what I think the most important
thing about it (is).
However, in my day-to-day job, once you realize it’s a nice
thing to be the first, it doesn’t matter much after that. As I
often say, you’ve seen some of this, it doesn’t matter who’s
the first Indian American this or African American that.
What matters is what you do when you get the job. So long
as you do your job in the right way, and you maintain the
public trust, uphold the tradition of your office; that means
I guess in some ways the responsibility is even heavier.
Isn’t the spotlight on you to make sure that you are not only
doing your job well, but doing it, probably, better?
I don’t know about that. I do think people can put too
much emphasis on being the first person of a particular gender or a particular background, or particular nationality, in
a particular job. And it’s fine — I guess — when people do
that within limits, but really what matters is ( that) any institution, whether it’s the President of the United States or
judge or US attorney, the most important thing is that you
uphold the traditions of that office in a dignified way, with
integrity, and doing the right thing all the time for the right
And I think — and I do think — that it’s terrific if people
can draw, within a community, inspiration from seeing
someone from that community (succeed) to be successful
(themselves). But more importantly than that, people need
to discharge their duty in that office without reference to
cultural backgrounds or color or anything else.
If you had remained in the private sector, you would certainly have been a partner in a top law firm, making loads of
money. But you have committed yourself to public service.
What drives this commitment?
Since I was a kid, and the way I think I was brought up, we
were always taught that it’s important to make a contribu-
‘I pinch myself about
how great this job is’
tion. I feel that very strongly. I continue to feel that today. I
teach that to my children. It goes back to what you were asking me earlier. When you have parents who came from
another country — and my father came with basically nothing — then you realize how fortunate you are. There’s plenty of time to make money later; if you have the privilege to
serve in some way, in a way that can make an impact, I think
everybody should spend some time doing that.
In fact, every time I go speak at a law school, or even at a
business school, I try to make the point that everyone has
the opportunity not just to do some public service on the
side, but to spend a few years doing public service. If they
can afford to do it for their entire lives, that would be terrific. As people have often said through our history, to who
much is given much is expected. I feel that way to my core.
That’s an extension of the question I had in terms of how
important is public service to a burgeoning and relatively
new immigrant community like the Indian Americans?
Public service is important to every community, and the
fullest form of participation in the life of any country is participation in the public life of the country. Every community should have representatives who are in all walks of life,
not just in science, not just in business, but also in public life
because that is the way you become part of the life of the
nation. I think that’s very important.
Indian Americans of the older generation, who had all
immigrated, were busy establishing themselves, hence,
hardly entering public service. But the younger generation,
going by the growing number we see running for office and
becoming elected officials, is seemingly more committed to
public service. Is this a trend?