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Indian-Americans bask in Nuke deal glory

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | October 10, 2008 20:48 IST

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The elation among members of the US business lobby and Indian American community leaders after President Bush signed the US-India civilian nuclear deal legislation into law in the East Room of the White House was almost uncontrollable.

Ron Somers, president of the US-India Business Council, which had hired its own lobbying firm--Patton Boggs--to help push the deal in Congress said, "This is a wonderful day in history."

Somers said the passage of the bill in the last days of the Congress, even as lawmakers were intensely debating the financial rescue legislation of $700 billion, he said, showed how much goodwill India had on Capitol Hill.

Obviously, Somers' exuberance was also fueled by the business opportunities the deal envisaged.

Swadesh Chatterjee, the founder and coordinator of the US-India Friendship Council, which mobilized the community as never before on a bipartisan basis to push through the deal on Capitol Hill, declared, "I feel great, I feel fantastic. All this hard work for three years has paid off. I feel terrific."

He said Bush's speech was "great,  it was the first time the President, vice President, and two secretaries of the cabinet (Condoleezza Rice [Images] and Samuel Bodman) were on the same stage at a signing ceremony in the White House."

Chatterjee added: "Such things don't happen very often. This is absolutely our greatest moment as I said before after the Senate vote, in the US-India relationship and I am so proud to be an Indian American and to be part of this great history-making event."

Dr R D Prabhu from Las Vegas [Images], a close friend and erstwhile family physician of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, described the consummation of the deal by Bush's signing as "an absolute coup! This is the most important treaty to be signed between India and the United States."

He predicted that "this will launch relations between India and the United States into a new orbit. The United States will become India's most important ally and serve as a leverage against a rising China."

Prabhu recalled how, "Ever since I was approached by the Ambassador of India three years ago and the Prime Minister two years ago (to garner support for the deal), we have been working very hard to get this deal passed in Congress. Many Democrats in the US and in Congress opposed it but he was able to convince most of them the favor the treaty-though some minds could not be changed. They stood against the legislation to the very end, but they were a tiny minority."

Prabhu recalled how when he had met with the Prime Minister on September 26, as part of the core community group of leaders who were accorded an exclusive meeting with Dr Singh, "There was some excitement, but also a lot of anxiety. There were questions as to whether there's enough time for the legislation to be brought to a vote in the Senate? Would it be stopped by a single Senator from coming to the floor? Also, how to deal with the fierce opposition from some Senators who were complaining of a lack of amendments to nullify any treaties if India tested again."

"Then I received a phone call from Senator Reid while we were sitting in the room with the Prime Minister, Ambassador Sen, Mr Narayanan and Mr Shiv Shankar Menon."

Congressman Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans said, "Today, the hard work of the Congress, this Administration, and my friends in the Indian American community has finally come to fruition."

"After three years of efforts to unite the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies, we officially have an agreement in place to ensure that the US and India work together to peacefully and responsibly develop civilian nuclear technology," he said."

Crowley declared that "I am proud to have been a part of moving this legislation forward, and it is my hope its enactment will help to solidify a critical partnership for decades to come."

Congressman Ed Royce, California Republican, and also an erstwhile co-chair of the India Caucus, hailed President Bush's enactment of the deal, and said, "There were many who thought this day would never come. The newspaper headlines that wrote the deal's obituary were wrong."

He said, "The hard work of the US and Indian governments, supporters in Congress, and the Indian American community has paid off. This is truly a momentous day for US-India relations."

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