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Friday, Apr 02, 2004

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Friends of India

B. S. Raghavan

HISTORY of sorts was made in the US Capitol when 20 Senators from both Republican and Democratic Parties came together under the banner of "Friends of India" to promote goodwill and understanding between the two democracies. All honour to Sen. John Cornyn, the person behind the initiative, and the Indian Ambassador, Mr Lalit Mansingh, the person behind the scenes, both of whom worked hard to put in place for the first time under the auspices of the US Senate a caucus of one-fifth of the total membership devoted to a specific country.

A number of Indian American organisations too had put in a lot of efforts to this end. Sen. Cornyn himself is a freshman and yet to find his feet, but he convinced his fellow Senators of the vital importance of Indo-US relations with a remarkable degree of sincerity, drive and earnestness. The fact that he is from Texas, the State to which the US President, Mr George Bush, also belongs and that he had been to India recently and returned "charged" with enthusiasm and impressed by the rapid strides it was making on several fronts also gave him a flying start. The response has been overwhelming across the political spectrum and this augurs well for an expanded membership in the near future.

There can be no doubt that the caucus will make a great impact as an influential platform for projecting India's stand on various issues. All the more so because Sen. Hillary Clinton (the wife of the former President, Mr Bill Clinton, both ardent supporters of India), will be co-chairing it and the Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Democratic Minority Leader Thomas Daschle have enlisted themselves as its members. The three of them together are a force to reckon with in terms of moulding public opinion and the policies of whatever Administration may be in power.

Although the caucus on India and Indian Americans that has been in existence in the House of Representatives for more than 10 years has also been doing good work in these respects, the Senate Group will have an edge because traditionally the clout of that body is far greater than that of the other House. There are only 100 Senators — two for each State — as against 435 Congresspersons, and while a Senator is elected for six years, the Congressperson's term is only two years. Thus, it is easier to reach out to the smaller number of Senators without the uncertainty of having to start all over again with new faces every two years.

Here, then, is a golden opportunity for India to put to the maximum use to advance its cause. In doing so, it should be seen to be fair and balanced, without being negative or shrill.

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