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The growing influence of NRIs in US political arena

The upcoming presidential election in the United States has opened up a unique opportunity for all, especially the Indian American community, to participate in and make their voices heard in a way as never been before. The closer ties between India and the United States, the ever increasing influence of India in the world arena and the growing influence of the NRI community in the US, offers a challenge as well as an opportunity to the more than two million Indian Americans in the United States.

Responding to this historic moment, the Indian-Americans who have excelled in almost every field are becoming active in the United States of America’s political arena, the area where they have been under-represented so far. And the two major political parties in the United States, Democratic Party and the Republican Party are wooing them in a big way for their votes and for the treasure, time and talent, they can offer to both the parties.

Echoing this sentiment, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, in a message to the Indian-American Leadership Initiative on the release of its first 2008 Almanac of Indian-American Democrats — which profiles 92 Indian-American office-holders, candidates, operatives, consultants and advocates — at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, said, “These Indian- American Democrats, who belong to the oldest political party in the world are leading the charge to strengthen our party, elect our candidates and ensure that we build a government that lives up to the ideals that inspired generations of Indian immigrants to make America their home. Perhaps these pages include a future DNC chair, perhaps they include the first Indian-American who will manage a presidential campaign perhaps they include a future Democratic president of the United States.”

“It is certain that this almanac will only grow over time as more and more Indian-Americans achieve positions of leadership within our party. That is, fundamentally, the strength of the Democratic Party. The rise of Indian-American Democrats did not happen by accident,” he said. “It is not a fortuitous anomaly. It is the direct result of a shared set of values that connect the community and our party,” he added. “Indian-Americans play a vital role in the life of our nation and the health of our democracy,” he said and “by the power of your involvement and the force of your vote we will continue to transform the Democratic Party and redeem the American dream of opportunity and justice for all.”

Recognizing this growing influence, one is happy to note that an unprecedented number of Indian-Americans from across the US attended the Democratic National Convention, as elected delegates, alternates, appointed at-large delegates for their political activism on behalf of the party and the nominee Senator Barack Obama — to be part of the history as the first African-American is formally nominated to be next president of the United States.

In the 1980s, there were only a couple of Indian-Americans like New Jersey Democratic veteran Kanak Dutta, state legislator Upendra Chivukula and Democratic activist Rajen Anand. In the 1990s, it had grown to not more than a handful and even in 2004, the number of Indian-American delegates was less than two dozen. But to this convention, delegates are in excess of 50 plus another 50 Indian-Americans as supporters and volunteers. Preeta Bansal, a senior adviser on the Obama campaign, Hrishi Karthikeyan, co-founder of South Asians for Obama, Ann Kalayil, a longtime supporter and close friend of Obama, Anand and Subodh Chandra, and Kansas state legislator Rajiv Goyle and Congressional hopeful from Minnesota Ashwin Madia, are the delegates, to name just a few. Rajan Anand, who attended his sixth convention as an elected delegate, said, “I am so proud of the way the community has evolved. It is such a matter of pride. The increase in numbers has been really dramatic and incredible and this shows that our community has come of age politically.”

Indian-Americans are pragmatics too. NRIs, who had played a large but little-noted role in funding Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign are reported to be getting on Senator Obama’s bandwagon faster than other supporters of Mrs. Clinton. “I think 80% of them have already said they are going to work hard for Obama,” a former Clinton supporter from Colorado, Sudhir Verma, said. “We have to convince those hard-core, hardhard- core Hillary supporters to move towards Obama.” In the primary, Mrs. Clinton raised more than $5 million from Indian Americans and counted more than 20 of them as so-called bundlers for her campaign. Most attributed the generosity to her visits to India as first lady and to the warming in relations with India during President Clinton’s terms.

In spite of all the fallacies of the Bush administration, especially in the realm of foreign policy, it was during the current regime, India’s relationship with the US has grown steadily in almost all areas of cooperation. Several Indian Americans, more than ever before in a single administration, occupy top positions in the Bush administration.

Assuring to continue this tradition, Barrack Obama, the Democratic nominee will seek to build a still closer partnership with India, seen as a “natural strategic ally” of the US, according to the Democratic party platform, approved during the Convention in Denver.

These Indian-American Democrats, who belong to the oldest political party in the world are leading the charge to strengthen our party