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August 2, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Rajeev Srinivasan

Dan Burton for ex-Congressman in 2000

I read recently that Dan Burton is up to his usual activity -- attacking India in the United States House of Representatives. Year after year, he adds a rider to some bill -- the rider essentially has the effect of irritating India. He has done this consistently for the last ten years or so.

In 1998, this noxious person, who apparently gets funding from Pakistani and 'Khalistani' elements in the US, was laid rather low because of personal and political problems (mostly due to his hypocrisy and lack of ethics being exposed, including his cheating on his wife) and he did not bother with the anti-India legislation.

I hoped Burton would repeat his good behaviour in 1999; alas, he is back to his old tricks, never mind India's exemplary behaviour in Kargil. I think the only way to deal with this man is through dandam, as the other Chanakyan mechanisms are of no avail. I think Indian-Americans should join hands and defeat Burton in 2000.

In fact, I thought Indian-Americans should attack him in 1996, and I wrote an article about that four years ago. Alas, I can repeat that almost verbatim today -- and it is still valid. Here it is:

Rep Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, is the most consistent India-baiter on the Hill. He never misses an opportunity, however obscure, to thumb his nose at India. His latest antics have been his annual bash-India resolution on "human rights"; and his adding to some completely innocuous bill a provision designed explicitly to "punish" India.

Never mind that many sensible observers have applauded the progress of financial and economic reform in India. India is likely to become a major trading partner for the US. Burton, unhappily, seems quite oblivious to these economic realities in his quixotic crusade against some imagined demons in India. Burton really is very trying, even for those accustomed to whimsical politicians.

Burton clearly has a bone to pick with India. Indian-Americans ought to return the favour and make his defeat in 2000 their primary election-year agenda. It isn't particularly critical what happens on the national front -- any president, Democrat or Republican, will view India as an attractive market (one of the "Big Emerging Markets").

So I think Indian-Americans should go ahead and openly declare war on inconvenient politicians, starting with Burton; they should make him the target of a concerted effort; announce that they are going to defeat him; once they have achieved that aim, it will make other anti-India politicians (of which there are many) think twice before launching into unwise tirades against the Indian lobby.

There is the politics of accommodation; and then there's the politics of intimidation. Indian- American lobbyists, the Indian diplomatic corps and so forth have attempted the former, by creating an India Caucus and other friendly forms of persuasion to convince lawmakers that they should pay attention to one of the world's major powers. This is well and good, and I applaud those who have made the effort.

Similarly, the attempts by Indian-Americans to enter Congress are laudable. I am all for having a few Indian-American lawmakers: that would create good role models (I hope) for young Indian-Americans. However, I think there's no way two or three Indians can make substantive changes to how India is viewed by legislators.

Furthermore, I suspect that once they are in Congress, Indian-Americans will be under some real or imagined pressure to distance themselves from Indian causes to avoid allegations of racial bias. I have seen this happening to fellow-Indians as they gain power in companies: they overcompensate by being perhaps a bit hostile to Indians. Therefore, I don't think the politics of accommodation is the answer.

Then there is of course the politics of intimidation and confrontation. The recent history of political action in this country is the story of vested interests who articulated their goals and successfully went after those who stood in their way. A few examples: anti-abortionists, the National Rifle Association, the American Association of Retired People, the American Medical Association.

All these powerful lobbying groups have targeted vulnerable opponents and poured money into defeating them, often succeeding in doing so. The result? No politician -- they generally know which side their bread is buttered on -- challenges any of these powerful interests. Everyone is careful to tiptoe around them.

This is what we Indian-Americans need to do to: identify mischief-makers such as Burton, declare publicly that we are targeting them for defeat, and go after them single-mindedly. Chanakya would approve: the last of the chatur-upayas is, of course, dandam, all-out attack. Reasoning and compromise don't seem to work with Burton. He deserves no quarter -- total war is called for. Indian-American credibility is at stake, and they must unseat him.

If just 10 per cent of the 1.2 million Indian-Americans were to contribute ten dollars each to the "Defeat Dan Burton Fund," that is a significant amount of money in the war chest. It is not clear Burton has a deep-pocketed lobby behind him: I may be wrong, but I don't think he is bankrolled by some large business house. He probably gets a lot of his funding from pro-'Khalistan' and pro-Pakistan elements.

As one of the more undistinguished backbenchers in Congress, I doubt if even his party will rally to his support with its big guns. Bottom line, he is vulnerable and is a soft target. In 1998, an Indian-American did run against him, and might have won in the primaries, had it not been for some complex circumstances that I don't quite recollect now.

What Indian-Americans need to do is as follows: work with his opponent (whoever he/she is -- it's immaterial for the large purpose) to understand the demographics of the constituency. Do some serious opinion polling to figure out in what ways Burton has annoyed his constituents.

Explore his Congressional record and his personal history to find any dirt that can be exploited. For example, he has been exposed as a person of loose moral character. Is there anything else that can be used for character assassination or innuendo in the radio and television advertisements the Indian-American group will pay for?

What are people in Indiana looking for? How has he failed in the care and feeding of his constituents? Burton should be put under a microscope. If he spends so much of his efforts in India-bashing (a sport of little interest, presumably, to his midwestern constituents) surely he must be ignoring farm issues or whatever else they care about.

In addition to hiring pollsters, find the best media mavens money can buy. Fill the airwaves with negative propaganda. Make it clear to Burton that he is being targeted for his anti-India stance. This can of course backfire if he then uses it as part of a broad pandering-to-anti-immigrant-hysteria strategy.

But it is likely he will not pursue such a tack because Indian-Americans can probably make him look foolish on the media. He would look pretty wimpy to be harassed by a bunch of meek Third-World types. Wimpishness is death in American elections. Surely, Indiana residents have little to fear from Indians --there are few computer programming jobs in Bloomington, Indiana, threatened by offshore developers in India -- and so they probably don't share Burton's antipathy to India.

The upshot of all this will be that Indian-Americans can give Burton a run for his money, and he is likely to be seriously inconvenienced. There is a good chance that he can be defeated, too. The next step, of course, is to then duplicate the same effort -- or at least threaten to -- in other races, to oppose other India-bashers and to strive to defeat them in 2002. The effect of just one successful attack will be most salutary: others will definitely pay attention. A little muscle goes a long way; it's time for Indian-Americans to assert their collective political clout.

Any number of well-known politicians in the US have successfully included the politics of negativism and intimidation in their arsenal -- Senator Jesse Helms with his pit-bull tactics is merely the most visible example. It is time for Indian-Americans to co-opt this approach: no more Mr. Nice Guy. I even have a great slogan: Dan Burton for ex-Congressman in 1996!

Rajeev Srinivasan

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