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Rediff.com  » News » Comatose US Senate India Caucus gets new life

Comatose US Senate India Caucus gets new life

June 04, 2009 11:51 IST
United States Senators Christopher Dodd and John Cornyn have launched an attempt to revive the largely comatose US Senate India Caucus.

Coryn founded the US Senate India Caucus nearly five years ago following a visit to India at the urging of one of his constituents, community activist Ashok Mago. The Republican senator recently invited Dodd to co-chair the Caucus after Hillary Clinton, who was the Democratic co-chair, left the Senate to be US secretary of state.

Unlike the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, which has over 200 members and is the largest country caucus in the US House of Representatives, the Senate Caucus has been totally inactive ever since it was launched.

The Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans hosts regular events and has visiting Indian officials and its members at Indian-American community events proudly declare that they are members of the India Caucus.

The Senate Caucus, meanwhile, was launched just before the departure of then Indian ambassador Lalit Mansingh, on whose birthday it was convened with much fanfare by Cornyn and Clinton and several hundred Indian-American community leaders.

Dodd, a senior member of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Cornyn, a ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter on Wednesday to their Senate colleagues.

They urged them to join the Senate India Caucus, particularly since 'in recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that India, the world's largest democracy, and the United States, the world's oldest democracy are well suited for not only a partnership, but also a friendship.'

They argued in their Dear Colleague letter obtained by rediff.com India Abroad that 'robust cooperation between the US and India means increased economic opportunities for both nations, as well as the chance to join together to spread the fundamental principles of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and the rule of law throughout the world, benefiting Americans and Indians alike.'

Dodd and Cornyn said, 'A strong relationship between the US and India, based on mutual trust and respect, will enable close collaboration across a broad spectrum of strategic interests, such as counter-terrorism, promotion of democracy, fostering regional economic development, encouraging respect for human rights, and expanding scientific research.'

'There is no clearer evidence of the benefits of this strategic partnership than the US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement, passed by Congress and signed into law last fall,' they said, and added: 'This landmark initiative paved the way for cooperative efforts in peaceful nuclear power, representing the latest example of the US and India working together on an issue of mutual benefit.'

The lawmakers further said, 'in the coming years, Congress should aim to fortify this strategic partnership and help foster even deeper cooperation between the US and India.'

'To that end,' they said, 'the Senate India Caucus provides a forum for members of the Senate to work closely with Indian government officials, Indian Americans, and others friends of India in the US to help promote the already flourishing relationship between our countries and candidly discuss issues of common concern.'

'Furthermore,' Dodd and Cornyn said, referring to the burgeoning affluent and influential Indian-American community, 'some two million American citizens are of Indian descent, representing one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country.'

They said, 'Every day, members of this expanding community make tremendous contributions to US industry, politics, culture, and philanthropy, and their positive impact on our country continues to increase.'

Urging their Senate colleagues to join the Caucus, the lawmakers declared, 'In doing so, you would help send a message that the US and India stand together as friends to face even the most difficult and pressing issues of our time.'

They said, 'An inaugural 2009 event will be planned for this summer.'

For the embattled Dodd, reviving the Caucus and getting the Indian-American community enthused can have a beneficial impact on his desire to be re-elected for a sixth term, not to mention some hefty Indian-American contributions to beef up his campaign coffers.

Dodd's popularity has plummeted in recent months in the wake of the country's economic downturn and has come in for stinging criticism ever since his role as head of the Senate Banking Committee, to permit executives at the insurance giant American International Group to be paid massive bonuses even after the company received huge government bailout funds was exposed to the media.

He has also been raked over the coals for failing to rein in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from doling out the sub-prime mortgages that led to the ongoing housing crisis. To compound all of this, he faces a Senate Ethics Committee investigation over alleged favourable mortgage rates received from Countrywide Mortgage's VIP programme.

Dodd faces a Democratic challenger in the primary from Merick Albert, a businessman and a former US Air Force Officer who served in Bosnia, who has said that Dodd does not care about Connecticut but only about Washington, DC.

Recent polls show that even if Dodd overcomes the Democratic primary challenge, either of the two Republicans running to challenge him -- former US Congressman Ron Simmons or State Senator Sam Caliguri -- could defeat him handily.

Last month, Dodd keynoted one of the sessions of the 20th anniversary cvonvention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association -- the largest Indian-American organisation with over 9,000 members and a political action committee with overflowing coffers.

He was obviously aware that AAHOA was an integral part of the Indian-American coalition that was important in lobbying for the passage of the US-India nuclear deal. He reminded the audience that in the absence of then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Joe Biden, who was campaigning as Barack Obama's running mate, it fell on his shoulders to manage the legislation in the Senate.

He spoke of how 'we were able to finally clear out the underbrush in the relationship between India and the United States and it couldn't have come at a more important time.'

'In talking about the accord and coming together, it felt like divorced parents finally seeing the family come together again,' he said, and added: 'We have come together and can never, ever, ever be separated again in that relationship.'

Dodd then reminded the several thousand Indian-American hoteliers attending the convention that was being held in DC for the first time in AAHOA's history, that he had taken over as Democratic co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, following the departure of Hillary Clinton.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC