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It is a historic event, say Indian-Americans

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | July 23, 2008 02:03 IST

The Indian-American community leaders, who have been in the forefront of lobbying the US Congress on behalf of the US-Indian civilian nuclear agreement, have heaved a sigh of relief over the Indian government's victory in securing the trust vote in Parliament.


Swadesh Chatterjee, who brought a bipartisan coalition of the community, professional and specialty groups together under the umbrella of the US-India Friendship Council solely to push through the deal in the Congress, who was euphoric earlier this month over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] decision to defy the Left proscription and to go ahead with the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, called Dr Singh's prevailing on the trust vote "as a historic event."


He told, "This was what we wanted so much because it was very important for us in our efforts to mobilise behind the deal once again and we congratulate the Prime Minister for his commitment to the country and for moving forward with something that is good for the people of India."


Chatterjee, a North Carolina entrepreneur, said, "It (the trust vote win) has energised us once again because as you know we worked so hard earlier to get the enabling legislation through Congress and now we are committed and will rededicate ourselves to do everything we can in our power to work with Congress to make sure that  it (the US-India 123 Agreement) comes for a vote in the very short period of time that we have."


He acknowledged that if the trust vote had been lost, "it would have certainly left a sour taste and would have left us lacking in the moral authority to argue on behalf of the deal."


"Although we had mobilized in the community after the Prime Minister decided to move forward with the safeguards agreement without giving in to the Left parties bluff, if he had lost the trust vote, no way could we have gone to the US Congress and asked for their support because some of them could have turned around and told us that 'Look here, how can we support it if Parliament of India doesn't want it."


Chatterjee said, "Non-proliferation hawks like Congressman (Ed) Markey, who are so strongly opposed to it and others in his camp would have been in a much more stronger position in arguing against the deal and a loss would have given them all the ammunition they needed to tell their colleagues not to support it when the government of India doesn't even have the majority in its own parliament for this deal."


"So this win by the Prime Minister and the Congress party has really helped us and we are so happy," he said, "and it has given us such a boost to our energy and the people who are together -- the core group of 20-25 community leaders -- are all so delighted over the outcome and we just finished a conference call where we all agreed to redouble our efforts to push this through Congress as soon as the agreement reaches the Capitol Hill. So, we are ready to make this happen. You don't know how important it was to win this trust vote because we needed this momentum and if it had been lost, we would have been so deflated."


Chatterjee said, "As I've told you, several times before we were so disappointed when we felt that not everybody in the Congress were for the deal and not supporting the Prime Minister, but we are so glad they all united finally and that we got people in India who really believe in something and stood up for something and they won and really gave us a boost for us to start all over a again."


Another leading community activist, Ashok Mago of Dallas, Texas, who is chairman of the US-India Forum in Dallas, and who along with the Indian American community in Texas delivered virtually all of the lawmakers in the House and Senate vis-�-vis their voting in favor of the enabling legislation two years ago, declared, "July 22 will be remembered as a historical day for Indian Parliament."


He said, "This is a great victory for the people of India and the supporters of the nuclear deal," and added, "The UPA government under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken another step towards the completion of the 123 Agreement."


"The margin of victory has enhanced the Prime Minister's stature in the world," he added.


Mago also lauded the Speaker of the Lok Sabha Somnath Chatterjee, saying, "Let us not forget the role of Speaker Somnath Chatterjee who was amazing. We salute you for defying the leadership of your party to maintain the dignity of the office of the Speaker. You have proven the office of the Speaker is above party politics."


He predicted that "generations to come will thank you for your stand and the way you conducted yourself".


Another community activist, Dr Sampat Shivangi of Jackson, Mississippi, who was also responsible for getting his state's representatives in the US House and Senate to vote for the enabling legislation, echoing Chatterjee and Mago's sentiments, also said, "It is not in the day to day politics we are interested in but in the larger cause of India, which was at our heart when the entire Indian American community batted for the US-India deal."


He said that "the vote of confidence was a vote of confidence in the sanity of this treaty which would bring tremendous energy and prosperity to India."


Shivangi acknowledged that "the energy needs of India cannot be met by just one treaty but this is a right and first step and we should applaud the judgment and courage that the people of India have shown in coming forward for the good of India".


"Nobody is saying that the treaty is flawless and is a perfect treaty, but this is only a beginning and things could be worked out," he said, and added, "This is the best time to start that process before President Bush leaves office as he is one of the architects of this treaty."


But Mago cautioned that "it is too early to celebrate. There are a few more challenges ahead," and pointed out that "besides quick approval of the IAEA and NSG group, support of the leadership of the US Congress is crucial for the final passage," of the accord.


He also argued that "no one should expect any renegotiations of the deal as has been suggested by some political leaders in India."


Chatterjee said, "The task in front of us is humungous to bring it to Congress in such a short period of time and the lame-duck session has got to happen, but we are all charged up. We are mobilized and united and ready to go."


He said, "The deal, when it happens will cement the US-India relationship because it is not only good for India, it is also very good for the United States. It will help both countries in the areas of environment, energy, technology, security, but much more important that all of this is the trust it will cement between both our countries."

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