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N-deal: NRIs campaign to garner support

In one of the biggest ever mobilisation efforts, Indian Americans are climbing up Capitol Hill, reports S Rajagopalan.
None | By S Rajagopalan, Washington
UPDATED ON MAR 27, 2006 10:41 AM IST

The Indian Americans are climbing up Capitol Hill for the nuke deal. It is billed as one of the biggest mobilisation efforts by the 2-million-strong community in recent years.

A host of NRI/PIO bodies have plunged into an all-out campaign to drum up support for the Indo-US nuclear deal even as the Senate and the House committees prepare to deliberate on the recently introduced bill.

The organisations range from the well-connected AAPI (American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) to a string of broad-based conglomerates such as the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) and the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO).

"We're seeking meetings with Senators and Congressmen," says Thomas Abraham, chairman of the GOPIO. "On Friday, we got Republican Congressman Christopher Shays to speak on Indo-US relations, with a special focus on the nuclear deal."

Community leaders who command influence with lawmakers have been asked to call on them personally. It is turning into a grassroots movement. "We have asked Indian Americans to approach their respective Senators and Congressmen with appeals to support the bill," said Abraham. Almost everybody who is somebody is part of the effort to win support on the Hill, commented another community activist.

Florida-based Piyush C Agrawal, president of the Association of Indians in America, says he has personally spoken to Senator Bill Nelson and six Congressmen from his state. "Nobody has said no. They have said they are looking into it," said Agrawal. "It's impractical to expect them to say yes straightaway."

The governments are also working. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins its deliberations this week with a classified briefing on the deal by undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns. Next week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will testify before it.

Burns, who has made a persuasive case for approval of the pact, will address the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday.

India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who arrives in Washington on Tuesday, will also hold meetings with members of both chambers to dispel misgivings among some lawmakers over certain aspects of the deal.

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