Indian-Americans lobbying withers as India-US ties blossom

Written by PTI | Washington | Updated: Feb 7 2013, 20:49pm hrs
With Indo-US relationship blossoming under Obama Administration, interest of the small but powerful Indian-American community to lobby for closer bilateral ties appears to be waning, reflected in the sharp drop in membership to the Congressional Caucus on India.

The Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans which was established in 1994 when the ties between the two countries were still in a nascent phase, had grown to a record 186 members of the US House of Representatives.

For more than a decade the Congressional Caucus was considered to be a driver of India-US bilateral relationship, and played a key role in the passage of the historic civilian nuclear deal.

However, latest figures reveal this number has dropped to about 110 Congressmen, which is mainly because there has been no fresh drive from the Indian-American community asking their representatives to join the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans.

In the last 112th Congress there were 135 members.

The numbers have mainly dropped either of retirement or defeat of previous members.

"It is not lack of interest on part of lawmakers. It is the lack of interest on the part of the Indian-Americans.

awmakers need to be reminded. If asked most of the lawmakers are always willing to oblige their active constituents," Ashok Mago, a Dallas-based prominent community leader, said.

Sampat Shivangi, president of the bi-partisan Indian-American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) agreed with the view as well.

"India centric issue like civil US-India Nuclear treaty galvanised the Indian-American community, Government of India and Indian Embassy which shot up the India Congressional Caucus number around 185 with united efforts of all these groups," Shivangi said.

"Now there is no burning issue and the enthusiasm has weaned in this process," he said.

In November IAFPE had held a Congressional reception at the Capitol Hill during which at least three Congressmen announced their decision to join the Caucus.

But in the absence of follow-up from local Indian-American leaders, they are yet to formally join the India Caucus.

Shivangi said that there is a need to find other galvanising issues so that Indian-Americans are motivated to work for the bilateral relationship.

India's permanent membership to the UN Security Council could be one, he noted.

"This just cause if taken seriously would galvanize above said groups to unite and move forward," he said.

The office of Congressman Joe Crowley, one of the founding members of the Caucus and its current Co-Chair from the Democratic Party said that he is working on increasing the membership of the caucus.

"There has been a lot of turnover in the past few years in Congress (such as retirements), and since there are a significant number of new members in the 113th Congress, Congressman Crowley believes this is the perfect time to share information about the caucus with his colleagues and encourage them to learn more about the US-India relationship," Courtney Gidner, Congressman Crowley's spokesperson said.

"He is definitely focused working at getting a lot more members to join, and is excited to make it happen," Gidner told PTI.

In the new Congress, Dr Ami Bera, the only Indian-American lawmaker in the current Congress, and Tulsi Gabbard, the only Hindu ever elected to the US Congress have announced their decision to join the Congressional Caucus for India and Indian-Americans.

A fresh drive for new membership is expected to be launched in March, but Mago argued it cannot be successful unless Indian-Americans from across the nation come out and support it and ask their representatives to join the Caucus.

Refraining from giving reasons for this sharp drop in the caucus membership, Indian Ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao listed out the immense contribution that India caucus has made in strengthening India US bilateral relationship.

"Over the years, the India Caucuses in both Houses of Congress have been increasingly engaged in pushing forward a substantive agenda of India-US partnership, taking up specific issues of cooperation and common interest from time to time, and providing strength and substance to the relationship between our two countries," Rao said.