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Obama pledges to strengthen Indo-US relations
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | February 23, 2008 04:41 IST
Senator Barack Obama of Ilinois, who has emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic Party's nomination for the 2008 presidential elections over rival Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, has pledged, in an exclusive article written for India Abroad in the first person, "As President, I will reach out to encourage the active engagement and partnership of the vibrant Indian American community in making the change we seek".
India Abroad, owned by rediff.com, is the oldest and largest weekly newspaper serving the Indian American community across the United States. Headquartered in New York, it currently publishes four editions in the US, and one in Canada [Images].
Obama, who signed off on the article which will appear in next week's India Abroad immediately after extending his winning streak to 10 consecutive primaries last week when, on February 19, he routed Clinton in Wisconsin and in his native Hawaii, where he was born and raised, also promised that as president, he would 'strengthen the critical relationship between the United States and India'.
"The world's oldest democracy and the world's largest democracy are natural partners, sharing important interests and fundamental democratic values," he said.
Almost the entire first half of his article was devoted to speaking to the Indian American community, addressing them as Americans first of Indian background, who care deeply about both the United States as well as India.
Recognising the major contributions the Indian American community is making to the country's economy as well as the fabric of American society, Obama said, "Already, in communities across this country, Indian Americans are lifting up our economy and creating jobs," and pointed out, "Leading entrepreneurs, innovators, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and hardworking professionals are adding to the richness and success of the American society".
Using some powerful language in bemoaning hate cimes, civil liberties violations, and protracted immigration regulations and backlogs that affect Indian Americans adversely, he said, "And yet, since the attacks of 9/11, we have been gripped by a politics of fear that has far too often targetted Indian Americans, excluding them from the American story".
"Too often," Obama argued, "flawed strategies like racial profiling have had a disproportionate effect on Indian Americans. Too often, restrictions at our borders have prevented entry for many students and family members who seek nothing more than opportunity and reunification with loved ones".
He said, "In the process, we have restricted the promise of America for millions of hard-working, law-abiding individuals who advance our nation's economy and potential through strong families, excellence in education and achievement, and personal faith".
"Instead of policies that make Indian Americans feel targetted or excluded from the American story, I will be a President who draws upon the energy and expertise of the Indian American community," Obama said, and predicted, "Together, we can restore and revitalise America's innovation-based economy so that we can create jobs and meet our most pressing domestic challenges".
And in acknowledging the information and high technology prowess of Indian Americans who have powered Silicon Valley and replicated it across the country, even in the Washington metropolitan areas outside the Beltway in Maryland and Virginia, the candidate said, "To succeed, we need to make use of technology, a sector where so many Indian Americans have thrived".
In this regard, Obama, whose campaign has raised over a $100 million, largely online, acknowledged, "Our campaign has already demonstrated the power of technology to connect people, foster grassroots organisation, and build a movement for change from the bottom up".
On this commitment to strengthening and furthering the 'critical relationship between the United States and India', he said, "That is why I voted for the US-India nuclear energy deal on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And that is why I will move forward to build a close strategic partnership between the United States and India when I am President of the United States".
Obama said that it is imperative that Washington and New Delhi 'work together to combat the common threats of the 21st century', and pointed out, "Both countries have been victims of catastrophic terrorist attacks, and we have a shared interest in succeeding in the fight against Al Qaeda [Images] and its operational and ideological affiliates".
The candidate, who voted against military action and the infusion of US troops into Iraq, a vote he holds over Clinton like the sword of Damocles since she voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war, said, "That fight (combating international terrorism) must not be undercut by a misguided war in Iraq".
"I opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, arguing that we needed to 'finish the fight with bin Laden and Al Qaeda' in Afghanistan," Obama recalled, and also noted that he has consistently argued "that we need to do more to roll back the Al Qaeda sanctuary along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and that we cannot put all of our eggs in the Musharraf basket in Pakistan".
Obama said that this was why he had proposed, "long before the declaration of martial law in Pakistan, that we need to condition our assistance to the Pakistani government so that we encourage stronger action against Al Qaeda and a restoration of democracy".
"Our goal remains not simply an all-in Pakistan, our goal is a democratic ally, with a vibrant civil society and strong institutions," he said.
In the article, Obama also spoke about his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi [Images] and that this is the reason he has a portrait of Gandhi that hangs prominently in his US Senate office.
"In my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things," he wrote. "That is why his portrait hangs in my Senate office; to remind me that real results will not just come from Washington, they will come from the people. And that is why I am proud to have the longstanding support of so many Indian Americans in all aspects of my campaign, as well as the endorsements of leading elected Indian American lawmakers".
Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, the longest serving Indian American elected official in the United States, earlier this month endorsed Obama.
Barve, one of the most powerful lawmakers in Maryland, who had travelled with then First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1997 to India to attend Mother Teresa's funeral, endorsed Obama before the 'Potomac Primaries,' in which Obama trounced Clinton in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Kansas Representative Rajiv Goyle, one of the young Indian American lawmakers whom Barve has mentored, also has endorsed Obama, and in fact co-hosted a fundraiser for the campaign at his parents' home in Wichita along with Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and retired Air Force General Tony McPeak.
In the article, which sources close to Obama told India Abroad he had worked on for weeks with some of his closes Indian American friends and supporters, with the candidate himself putting 'the final touches on the heels of his string of 10 successive victories', also included his compelling personal story; about how his father arrived in America from Kenya like so many Indian American immigrants.
"For many years," he said, "I have been impressed by the dedication of Indian Americans to make their communities and their country a better place. My relationship with the community stretches back to my days as a student. This bond is strong and deep because it is in part personal. Like so many Indian Americans, my father arrived in America without money, but with a student visa and a determination to live his dreams".
Obama acknowledged that he would not be running for President "if it were not for the promise of America", and spoke of how he was born in Hawaii, "the child of a teenage mom and a father from Kenya who left when I was two".
"My family didn't have money or status, but like so many Indian American families, they gave me love, and education, and hope; hope that in America, we can live our dreams, and in living our dreams we can contribute to the dreams of all Americans".
Obama ended his article by inviting the Indian American community, and all Americans, to join him in 'renewing the strength of America', and said the next chapter in the American story can be written with a simple phrase, "that reflects the hope and optimism that so many Indian Americans show in their daily lives - Yes we can".