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Democrats reach out to Indian American community

The Party launched an Indian American Council to woo NRIs who were earlier courted by the Republicans.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2005 19:17 IST

In what is seen as the rising power of Indian Americans and the increased strategic outreach to India, the Democratic Party has launched an Indian American Council (IAC) to woo the community that has been increasingly courted by the Republicans.

The council has been launched as part of the party's Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on the eve of the 2006 elections for the US Congress where it has no majority in the House or the Senate.

But with controversial issues such as Iran's nuclear programme where some Democrats accuse India of soft-pedalling, and US-India civilian nuclear cooperation against which a number of Liberal Democrats have spoken out, the party is going to be hard put to bring Indian Americans around.

Prior to the 2004 presidential elections, the Democratic Party had formed an Indian American Leadership Council at the Democratic National Committee (DNC). It is a sign of the increasing clout of this community that the Democrats have established the IAC as part of the more powerful DCCC.

Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Party leader in Congress, has appointed Ro Khanna, a political novice in California who in the last Congressional elections had the gumption to run against ranking Democrat Tom Lantos as chair of the Council.

Over the last few years, President George W. Bush's nomination of several Indian Americans to various offices in his administration, as well as his radical up-ticking of a strategic policy initiative vis-à-vis India, has brought many Indian Americans to the Republican fold.

The DCCC is making a bid to win back some of this support as Bush's popularity is on the downswing with the ever-lengthening Iraq war and the disastrous relief efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Public polls show an all-time low appreciation for Bush.

"The Council provides an extraordinary opportunity for leaders of Indian Americans to unify and to have a substantive contribution in shaping this country's policy," Ro Khanna told IANS. He credited Pelosi with "vision in harnessing the talent, passion, and energy of the community".

Congressman Joseph Crowley (Democrat-New York), chairman of the DCCC Business Council whose district in New York houses the largest population of Indian Americans in the US, said he was pleased that the DCCC shared his commitment to working with this community.

"As we approach another critical election year, I feel confident that the partnership between the Indian American community and the DCCC will be essential to the victory of Democrats in key Congressional districts next November," Crowley added.

However, the Democrats may yet have a hard time convincing Indian Americans to rally behind them as the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation debate heats up in Congress.

With a number of Democrats opposed to changing US regulations to permit this cooperation, Indian Americans are already mobilising to recognize and reward those legislators who will work to make the July 18 Joint Statement between Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a reality.

Then there's the question of US hardline policy toward Iran, where Lantos has been vehement in demanding that New Delhi toe the line with Washington, sharply criticising India for its alleged soft-pedalling on Iran.

Even as they may try to bring around Congressmen like Lantos, Indian Americans are going to be lobbying "friendly" legislators rather than chasing those that are ranged against civilian nuclear cooperation, an issue a majority of the community wants to see move forward.

The DCCC Indian American Council will be sponsoring an inaugural issues conference Oct 1, 2005, in California titled "Innovate America: A Vision for the 21st Century."

"The conference aims to initiate a dialogue between leaders of the community and the Congressional leadership about ensuring that the US remains competitive and generates high quality jobs and new opportunities throughout the 21st century," the DCCC said.

Khanna will be actively supported by other community leaders, including Malini Alles, Mike Amin, Hitesh Bhakta, Ram Bhojwani, Swadesh Chatterjee, Navneet Chugh, Lutfe Hassan, Rajat Gupta, Kamil Hasan, Talat Hasan, Sridar Iyengar, Kailash Joshi, Ramesh Kapur, Vinod Khosla, Subroto Kundu, Anmol Mahal, Kumar Malavalli, Sima Patel, Suhas Patil, Sunil Puri, Parag Saxena, Bipin Shah, Smita Shah, Rekhi Singh, and Deven Verma.

First Published: Sep 20, 2005 19:17 IST