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Hillary's India connection under scanner

world Updated: Sep 09, 2007 19:46 IST

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's India connection has come under scanner again with an influential US daily suggesting that she is seeking to strike a delicate balance on the contentious issue of outsourcing US jobs.

The former first lady is doing so as she courts two competing constituencies: wealthy Indian immigrants who have pledged to donate and raise as much as $5 million for her 2008 campaign and powerful American labour unions that are crucial to any Democratic primary victory, the Washington Post said on Saturday.

As evidence the daily cites two speeches, the "dedicated free-trader" delivered continents apart noting that when she flew to New Delhi to meet with Indian business leaders in 2005, she offered a blunt assessment of the loss of American jobs across the Pacific.

"There is no way to legislate against reality," she declared. "Outsourcing will continue. . . . We are not against all outsourcing; we are not in favour of putting up fences."

Two years later, as a Democratic presidential hopeful, Clinton struck a different tone when she told students in New Hampshire that she hated "seeing US telemarketing jobs done in remote locations far, far from our shores."

The two speeches delivered continents apart highlight the delicate balance the senator from New York, a dedicated free-trader, is seeking to maintain as she courts two competing constituencies: wealthy Indian immigrants who have pledged to donate and raise as much as $5 million for her 2008 campaign and powerful American labour unions that are crucial to any Democratic primary victory.

Clinton's India connection has come under the Post scanner for the second time this week. It alleged Monday that Indian American businessman Sant Chatwal, "a long time friend" of former President Bill Clinton had helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for her campaigns even as he battled to escape bankruptcy and millions of dollars in tax liens.

The new Post story suggests that despite aggressive courtship by Democratic candidates, major unions such as the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union have withheld their endorsements as they scrutinise the candidates' records and solicit views on a variety of issues,

"High on the agenda of union officials is an explanation of how each candidate will try to stem the loss of US jobs, including large numbers in the service and technology sectors that are being taken over by cheap labour in India. During the vetting, some union leaders have found Clinton's record troubling," the Post said.

"The India issue is still something people are concerned about. Her financial relationships, her quotes -- they have both gotten attention," the daily said citing Thea M. Lee, policy director for the AFL-CIO.

Facing a cool reception, Clinton and her advisers have used closed-door meetings with labour leaders in recent months to explain her past ties to Indian companies, donors and policies. Aides have highlighted her efforts to retrain displaced workers and to end offshore tax breaks that reward companies that outsource jobs.

But the Clinton camp has been pressed by labour leaders on her support for expanding temporary US work visas that often go to Indians who get jobs in the United States, and it has been queried about the help she gave a major Indian company to gain a foothold in New York state. That company now outsources most of its work to India, it said without naming the firm.

"They're obviously defensive about it," Post said citing Lee, who has taken part in such meetings.

Clinton, it said, declined repeated requests for an interview about her views on outsourcing. Her campaign advisers, however, say she believes there are no inconsistencies in the comments she has made here and in India or in her actions as a senator.

Her rivals for the Democratic nomination have monitored her every comment on the issue, Post said, noting that last year she joked to a group of Indian American donors that she could easily win a Senate seat if she were running in the Indian state of Punjab.

An aide to her chief foe in the Democratic contest, Barack Obama, parodied those remarks in a document distributed to reporters; it listed her political affiliation as "D-Punjab", it recalled.

Clinton's positioning on outsourcing dates to the 1990s when her husband's administration aggressively pursued free trade agreements such as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that union workers today consider the start of a huge exodus of US jobs to cheaper overseas competition, the Post said.