Brawn in the USA - By Viral Bhayani
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The 1.5 million-strong Indian-American community in the US is displaying its Capitol clout as never before, with more than $60 billion in income from Silicon Valley, fundraisers, and direct bids for office. Viral Bhayani reports

Everyone wants to be a crorepati. Bill Clinton had said so famously at the banquet for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his US visit. Well, all the crorepati Indians in the US want to be in politics. Or so it seems.

Whether it is 118 of the 435 legislators in the US Congress who have become members of the India Caucus, the 16 Indians who were part of Clintons government, the eight Indian Americans who stood for State elections this year, or more importantly, the money Indian Americans have raised for US politicians, their Capitol clout is a given fact.

And not a moment too soon. Nearly 43 per cent of the H-1B visas granted from February last were made to recipients from India. Nationwide, Indian American incomes average $60,000, according to the 1990 census, higher than any other Asian immigrant group.

And if there was any doubting this, Dr Anmol S. Mahals hilltop home in Washington was the venue in September of a fundraiser by Bill Clinton for the Democratic National Convention. The amount, $1 million, the highest so far at an Indian American political fundraiser. The event was put together by high-tech executive Visveswar Vish Akella, chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ample Communications, and Dinesh Sastry, a long-time Democratic Party activist and fundraiser. Combined with the nearly $400,000 raised for Congressional candidate Mike Honda at businessman Jessie Singhs home later in the day, a total of nearly $1.4 million materialised at the two events for the Democratic Party.

Money talks. It resulted in Clinton becoming the first American President to officially put out a statement from the White House greeting Indian Americans on Diwali eve with Al Gore following suit. And it caused a repeat on Guru Nanak,s birth anniversary.

But then with Indian Americans collectively earning $60 billion in California,s Silicon Valley last year, it,s not surprising. In 1999-2000, more than 185 of the Fortune 500 firms, outsourced their software requirements to India. Indian Americans now run more than 750 companies in the Silicon Valley,,, Clinton admitted during Vajpayee,s visit. The share of North America (US and Canada) in India,s software exports is almost 62 per cent, which is expected to grow further. Naturally because the IT industry in India has zoomed from $150 million 10 years ago to $ 5.7 billion in 1999-2000 with an average annual growth of above 50 per cent.

Yet it is not only that. Parag Khandahar, Policy Associate of the Asian American Federation of New York, feels that IT and the huge donations that Indian Americans have made cannot be distilled as the only quantifiable reasons,,. He believes the end of the Cold War has focused the attention of US lawmakers on areas of global tension: India,s problems with Pakistan mark it as a hotspot. This coupled with the prospective market of nearly a billion anxious Indian consumers who are exposed to Polo Sport and Coca Cola in every other Bollywood scene makes NRIs a respected force,,, he adds.

But Nasim Memon, member of the board of Asian America Action Fund, who has experience with fundraising and community leadership, believes American interest in India could not be just a gimmick where they get strong votes and support from the Indians,,. She believes the greater unity between Indian organisations has enhanced the community stature.

So even if, as Swadesh Chatterjee, President of the Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE), points out, half of the 1.5 million-strong community doesn,t vote, while the other half is not eligible, it does not matter because of campaign contributions. Add to this, says Sreenath Sreenivasan, Associate Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York, the fact that second generation Indians are more willing to experiment with their careers. Like 31-year-old Satveer Chaudhary, who served two terms as Minnesota representative and successfully ran for the state Senate his year: Indians across America are just beginning their involvement and I am excited for our political future.,,

Indian Americans are beginning to play a more direct role and perhaps the highest profile candidate is Kumar Barve, a US-born Indian American and a delegate for several terms in the Maryland Assembly, while several Indian Americans such as Bala K. Srinivas in Hollywood Park, Texas, John Abraham in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Arun Jhaveri in Burien, Washington, have held the position of mayors.

Yet Naresh Chandra, Indian Ambassador to the US, hesitates to use the word clout. "I think the funding is a done thing in America. All this fundraising is quite normal and legal.,, And Khandahar insists that nothing will change until a national leadership emerges for the Indian-Americans.

Courtesy Sunday Review, Times of India.

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