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US Senator's 'racist' remark upsets Indian Americans

By A Correspondent
Last updated on: July 08, 2006 00:51 IST
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Senator Joe Biden (Democrat, Delaware) has triggered angst within sections of the Indian American community with a comment that prima facie has racist overtones.

Biden, who is bidding for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, was reportedly at a political event in New Hampshire when, in conversation with an Indian-American political activist, he said, 'In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 (a chain store) or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I am not joking.'

The comment was captured by C-Span cameras; an alert blogger caught it and the clip is now spreading at viral speed through the blogging community, with those owing allegiance to the Republican Party blasting the senior Democrat as a 'racist'.

"No he is not joking," says Congressional candidate Raj Bhakta, who is seeking a seat from Pennsylvania on the Republican ticket.

The candidate, famous for his well-received appearance on the Donald Trump show The Apprentice, said in a statement emailed to rediff.com: 'These are ridiculous, callous and insensitive comments, which would simply be laughable if they were not coming from a Democratic presidential candidate. You would never know from listening to Biden that Indian Americans have contributed to this country other than making a mean cup of coffee.'

Speaking on the nationally-syndicated Hugh Hewitt radio show, Bhakta pointed out that Indian Americans are among the leading practitioners in medicine, law, corporates and small businesses.

'And pretty soon, Senator Biden will be really shocked that there will be another Indian-American in Congress,' Bhakta said, adding, 'I will be sure to stop by his office when I get there. I would not be bringing coffee.'

Bhakta took up the cudgels on behalf of his party, pointing out that there would have been an almighty furor if the comment had been made by a Republican, and accused the mainstream media, which is yet to report the incident, of being soft on Democrats.

Also quick off the blocks to condemn the incident was Dr Raghavendra Vijayanagar, a leading Republican fund-raiser and president of the Indian American Republican Council, who in a statement, said Biden has a history of making such insensitive statements.

Vijayanagar took it up a notch, suggesting that Democrats as a party are prone to belittle the Indian American community. In this context, he said, 'In 2004, Senator John Kerry referred to Sikhs as terrorists, and Senator Hillary Clinton jokingly referred to Mahatma Gandhi as a gas station owner.'

The Senator himself has not commented. A spokeswoman in his office is reported in sections of the media as saying, 'The point Senator Biden was making is that there has been a vibrant Indian-American community in Delaware for decades. It has primarily been made up of engineers, scientists and physicians, but more recently, middle-class families are moving into Delaware and purchasing family-run small businesses.'

Ironically, a little over a week ago Senator Biden, the senior Democrat on the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a hero to the community for having, along with committee chair Senator Richard Lugar, authored and successfully piloted through mark-up in the committee the bill relating to the US-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement.

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A Correspondent