India high on US presidential hopefuls’ radar

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : With India’s international profile soaring, most candidates for the 2008 US presidential election on either side of the political divide are making a concerted bid to woo Indian American voters and their top donors.

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Almost all the candidates serving in US Congress voted for a landmark law to begin civilian nuclear cooperation with India as well as a range of other economic deals and unlike 2004, outsourcing to India is yet to emerge as a major election issue.

Leading Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, who enjoys great support in the nearly two million strong Indian American community, has said: “In Asia, India has a special significance both as an emerging power and as the world’s most populous democracy.”

As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, the former first lady said she “recognised the tremendous opportunity presented by India’s rise and the need to give the country an augmented voice in regional and international institutions, such as the UN.”

Indian Americans for Hillary 2008, founded by prominent hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, is reported to be planning to raise at least $5 million for her campaign.

Last June, rival contender Barack Obama’s campaign sparked controversy by circulating a memo accusing Clinton of pandering to the Indian American community. It referred to Clinton as “Clinton (D-Punjab)” – journalistic shorthand for Democratic senator from Punjab. It also accused Clinton of getting “tens of thousands” from companies that outsource jobs to India.

Rising star Obama quickly made amends by apologising for the “Punjab jab” as the Indian-American community took umbrage, denouncing his memo as “the worst kind of anti-Indian American stereotyping”. Obama voted in favour of the US-India Energy Security Cooperation Act of 2006.

John Edwards, Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2004, has said a “strong US-Indian relationship will be one of my highest priorities” as president.

The US and India should “enhance our efforts to cooperate in law enforcement, intelligence sharing, and non-proliferation”, he said. He would also support India’s efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Another Democratic hopeful, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says the relationship between the US and India can potentially serve to deter extremism and counterbalance China economically. He also says India should join the G8.

Richardson says if elected, he would hold an Asian Energy Summit with India, China, Japan, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the United Nations Environment Programme to “adopt a 10-year strategy for a major energy transition in Asia”.

On the Republican side, leading hopeful Rudy Giuliani, who earned the epithet of “America’s mayor” for putting New York back on the rails after the Sep 11, 2001 terrorist attack, views India’s rapidly growing economy as a potentially lucrative market.

The US, he says should “take advantage” of the “large number of consumers that are emerging in India”. In particular, Giuliani said, the US stands to “make a lot of money in India” in new energy technology.

Republican senator John McCain, a Vietnam war veteran and a presidential hopeful in 2008, has noted India’s potential to be one of the “natural allies” of the US. He stresses the “importance of securing greater US market access to (India’s) economy of a billion consumers”.

Another Republican hopeful, House of Representatives member Duncan Hunter, has often expressed concern that too many US jobs are being outsourced to countries like India and China. But Hunter voted in favour of the proposed India-US civil nuclear deal.

Representative Ron Paul, a Libertarian Presidential nominee, opposed the nuclear deal. He has addressed India in terms of the US policy towards Iran. He says US provision of nuclear materials to India is a clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which contradicts “anti-Iran voices” claiming that Iran is violating the NPT.

Republican Representative Tom Tancredo, whose candidacy has focussed almost exclusively on immigration issues, voted for the nuclear deal. But his failed proposal to end the H-1B visa programme for highly skilled professionals did not endear him to Indian Americans.