Congressman Shri Thanedar is desperate to go viral.
He hangs out with Democratic Socialists. He proudly touts that one of his office numbers is “420.” And he loves the “Big D.”
The “Big D” is how he once referred to Detroit in a since-deleted tweet from early April that included a photo of him standing and smiling in front of the city’s skyline, a part of which is in his district.
“We in Detroit call Detroit the ‘Big D.’ Now, people in Dallas call their city ‘Big D.’ I didn’t know that,” Thanedar said in an interview with The Daily Beast.
Thanedar continued that, when you go to the riverfront from the Canadian side and look at Detroit, it’s just “a beautiful shot.”
“So, I just stood there… asked somebody to take a picture of me. And they took that picture and I just wanted to share that picture because I really loved the skyline from that angle,” he said. “And I just basically said, ‘I love Big D.’”
Once people started noting the innuendo, he took the post down. But it’s Thanedar’s love for pushing boundaries on social media that seems to be the point.
He’s not your average congressman. And to internet onlookers, in the internet parlance of our times, Thanedar is “based”—simultaneously meaning, in true internet fashion, that Thanedar is both his authentic self, and that people agree with him.
If Thanedar is a bit too online, that may be the point. He’s already had multiple brushes with internet fame, like when Thanedar was spotted in the background of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union smiling, standing completely still, staring directly into the camera as Biden spoke to another member.
“He’s just always in his own world,” a voiceover says in the TikTok. “He’s really quiet, for real, unless he know you. He’s funny as hell though.”
When The Daily Beast asked Thanedar about the moment over the phone this week, offering that we didn’t know if Thanedar had seen the video, his spokesperson on the call quickly interjected. “We all saw the video,” the spokesperson said.
The congressman wasn’t shy about it either.
“It was just amazing to be able to talk to the president, to see him in action,” Thanedar said, noting he told Biden of Detroit’s struggles in a brief exchange. “And I was like a kid in a candy store, whatever you call it.”
Thanedar’s persona in Congress is quickly becoming that of someone who’s a kid in candy store—or whatever you call it.
He told The Daily Beast that, on the night of the State of the Union, he was just “wowed” to be there. “I still look at myself as that person struggling in India, having nothing, and I just—every time I walk in the House chamber, I am just amazed,” he said. “It’s very surreal for me.”
Indeed, Thanedar grew up in a rural area of India, in what he’s described as a lower-middle class family with strong values. He came to America to pursue a doctorate in chemistry. Lantern in American dream fashion, he built a successful chemicals business, and amassed a good degree of wealth.
But his fortune has also sometimes undermined the progressive values he espouses. Thanedar drew some pushback after he won his Democratic primary in 2022, beating out a crowded field. He told The Daily Beast he doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive ideas.
“Most people look at me as my later years of financial well-being and my wealth, but the 24, 30 years of life that I lived in poverty and struggles, I’ve never forgotten those. And that’s who I am at the core,” he told The Daily Beast.
The congressman in behavior that, again, earned him some “based” fandom, towed the line of that progressivism in March when he appeared at a Democratic Socialists of America protest on tax abatements in Detroit. In another photo from a 2022 picnic, Thanedar is seen wearing a “Democratic Socialists of America” t-shirt.
Asked explicitly if he considers himself a Democratic Socialist, Thanedar offered an ambiguous response. “I’m not much for labels,” he said.
“Somebody needs to fight for them. And if I’m fighting for them, if I’m fighting against $800 million tax breaks to the billionaires who want to build hotels and residential buildings and office buildings in downtown Detroit, that worries me,” he further explained. “And that’s why and that’s why I went and stood in front of the city halls and protested.”
Thanedar’s district encompasses a sizable chunk of the Detroit area and some surrounding suburbs. And in continued “based” energy, Thanedar’s district office is in suite 420: a point he made very clear on social media when April 20 rolled around.
The congressman, who is a proponent of marijuana legalization, says he did not choose the office. “That was just the draw of the bag,” he said. “Actually, Brenda Lawrence, my predecessor, had that office.”
He also said, like other moments of his career thus far, that he didn’t get the joke at first. But in a jubilant tone, Thanedar described it as a happy coincidence.
“I learned about it because when I put my office address on the internet and said we opened an office, this is our suite 420 in downtown Detroit, come if you have any issues, and all of the trolls commented on that. And they draw my attention to the 420 suite. Until that I’d not actually realized, to be honest,” he said.
Congress wasn’t Thanedar’s first venture into public life. He served in the Michigan House of Representatives. And in 2018, he ran for the Democratic nomination for governor of Michigan, ultimately losing to now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
(In a recent, also-deleted tweet, Thanedar praised Whitmer as “Big Gretch,” before rewriting it as “Gov. Whitmer.”)
Before he entered politics, Thanedar actually wrote a book: “The Blue Suitcase: Tragedy and Triumph in an Immigrant’s Life.” The Daily Beast read the book in full, and there are more than a few notable parts.
Roughly the first quarter of the book details Thanedar’s initial years in America—getting off the plane from his small town in India with only $20 to his name, sleeping in his car, struggling at times to adapt to the English language and American culture. He writes about how he waited tables, how he worried about his family back home, how he’d send them money to help get by.
The book also chronicles, in sometimes eye-popping detail, Thanedar’s early love life, including his first three romances. One was his former student from when he was a teaching assistant, who had a history of “wearing short skirts and sometimes sitting in a manner that would distract me.” Another was a woman who “wasn’t what you’d call pretty,” though he noted he adored her.
And the third was a young woman, named Merlyn, who Thanedar said struggled with addiction. Thanedar once tried her lithium medication, which he said knocked him on his back for 24 hours.
In another section of the book that borders on erotica, Thanedar discusses losing his virginity to the woman at 24-years-old—which he described as “not an unusual age for a young Hindu man.”
“She started becoming very attracted to me,” Thanedar wrote. “I was too naïve to feel the shift, at first. But she soon made her desires plain. Our rooms were next to each other, and she started knocking on my door late in the evening to chat. In the privacy of my room I usually just wrapped a piece of light cloth around my waist… When Merlyn started coming over in nightgowns, I realized that I had better switch to pants—the fabric would be thicker and, well, less revealing.”
“She wasn’t the least bit modest; she tickled my belly or tugged playfully at my sarong, and her gowns were almost transparent. Even I couldn’t miss the message,” the now-congressman wrote.
(In 2018, when Thanedar was running for governor, his book was adapted into a play.)
Thanedar went on to find his first wife via an ad he placed in Times of India, which he wrote resulted in the “romantic equivalent of a job fair.” He chronicled his love for her—and his heartbreak when she died by suicide, an event that still impacts his policy ambitions on mental health.
Later, also via an ad placed in the Times of India, Thanedar found his second wife, who he is still with today.
Nowadays, with a year-and-a-half to go in his first term, the congressman is biding his time, hoping to have an impact on policy as Democrats strategize to win back their majority. And he’s plotting to bring his excited energy, his “based,” along for the ride.
“It’s not just any other job for me,” he said. “I love my job. You know, I love being able to represent, able to make a difference in people’s lives.”