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Home > News > PTI

Indian Americans lobby for nuke deal

Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | June 06, 2006 02:03 IST

As the US Congress returns after a recess on Monday, the Indian American community has stepped up lobbying to get co-sponsors for the civilian nuclear energy legislation pending before the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Indian American community has already held a round of meetings with key Congress members to muster maximum support from Congress members for the deal. Community leaders also said they were looking for a "champion" in the Foreign Relations Committees of both houses to get the bill on the floor of the house.

The administration hopes that the legislation will clear Congress by July, the timeframe being critical as after the summer break members of Congress will be busy preparing for the November 7 Congressional elections.

"If the vote were taken on Monday (in the Committees), we have the votes to get it passed both in the Senate and in the House," said Dr Bharat Barai, a prominent Indian American Community leader in the American Mid-West.

Indo-US Nuclear Tango

"The opposition to the treaty is a little bit less," Barai maintained in a telephone conversation with PTI from his home in Indiana adding that leading members of the community are quite active in trying to persuade leading lawmakers to lend support to the nuclear legislation.

Community leaders like Dr Barai are quite active in the Illinois area from where the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and the Chair of the House International Relations Committee Henry Hyde are from.

"We are pretty active and we are pretty hyped up. We are continuing our efforts with the same spirit. We are continuing with our activities," said Jatinder Singh Bedi, a Community activist and leader involved in seeing the civilian nuclear deal getting through Congress.

Bedi, who met Congressman Hyde recently, said, "He is very positive and optimistic about it."

Though he expressed concern over why India was not signing the Non Proliferation Treaty, Hyde stated that the issue would be activated in Congress by the third week of June, Bedi said.

Bedi along with other activists from the Illinois/Chicago area was recently in Washington in a reception featuring the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whose members are backing the nuclear deal or have even lent their names as co-sponsors.

Bedi on Tuesday will be joining people like Barai in a meeting with senior Congressman John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

The civilian nuclear energy legislation has not cleared either the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or the House.

Bedi said, "This deal is definitely going to get through Congress. Republicans are going to support it because it is the President's initiative; Democrats will be supporting it. There will be few Democrats who will not be supporting it and there will be a few Democrats supporting it at a later stage... and some of them will not support, because there are some people who will not support anything that is nuclear," Bedi said.

"At the end of the day this deal is getting through. There are some people seeking modifications to it but that is not a possible solution...," Bedi said adding that at the present time one of the major focus of the community leaders and activists is in getting co-sponsors to the legislations pending in the two Chambers.

The legislation pending in the House has 31 co-sponsors of whom 21 are Republicans and in the Senate there are ten co-sponsors, all from the Grand Old Party.

Swadesh Chatterjee, a leading community member and founder of the United States India Friendship Council, said "chances are good (of the deal going through) but there is still work to be done."

"It is a huge task. We made a lot of progres. We are now trying to get a champion in the House International Relations Committee and in the Senate Relations Committee, particularly a champion who is a Democrat to push it and work with (Henry) Hyde and Richard (Lugar) to try to bring the deal on the floor before the recess," he said.

"We have to take the bill on the floor for vote and I know if it comes for a vote it will pass. That is the challenged and we are working on that one," he said.

Calling the Indian American community an "absolutely critical" group in moving forward the civilian nuclear energy legislation through Congress, a senior diplomat knowledgeable with the goings on observed that the community is "completely energised" and "pretty united" with different groups going about realising the same objective.

Meanwhile, the New York Times in an analysis piece on Sunday said that Indian-Americans have in the recent months invested heavily in hiring lobbyists, organising fund-raisers and blanketing the members of the Congress with briefings, phone calls and petitions.

"This is the chance to show that the community has matured and can translate that into political effectiveness," Sanjay Puri, Chairman of the US-India Political Action Committee said. As part of lobbying, USINPAC is organising a fund-raiser later in May for Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton.

The wife of former President Bill Clinton, who co-chairs the Senate's 39-member India caucus, has so far remained silent on the deal and her support is viewed as crucial for garnering backing of her party for the agreement. USINPAC has hosted nine fund-raisers and receptions since January, raising tens of thousands of dollars for key members of the Congress, the New York Times reported.

Besides, the US-India Business Council and Indian American Friendship Council are also lobbying on the nuclear issue and wealthy Indian-Americans are holding fund-raisers for members of the Congress.

Getting the issue approved is a "huge deal" for the Indian-American community, said Congressman Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat who is co-chairman of the House Caucus on India and Indian-Americans and supports the deal.

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