One of the power dynamics that the U.S.-India nuclear-power deal will illuminate, is that between the Indian American community and Congress. How much power do “we” really have? Maybe a better question is who exactly are “we?” I have detailed in past posts my frustration over the fact that arguably the most powerful Indian American lobbying group, USINPAC, always steps up to represent the interests which matter most to the first generation, but largely fails to advocate my more mainstream issues and interests as a second generation Indian American. USINPAC is lobbying almost as hard as the government of India in support of this deal.
India is not solely depending on diplomacy to win the U.S. Congress’ backing for its civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Washington but also taking the help of lobbyists, a media report said…
A U.S.-based media organization reported that in the last fall, long before the visit of President George W Bush to India, the Indian Embassy in Washington had signed up two lobbying firms to “sell the deal”.
The Embassy has signed a $700,000 contract with Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, an outfit led by Robert Blackwill, U.S ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003, it said.
Besides, the Embassy is also paying $600,000 to Venable, a firm that “boasts” of former Democratic Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana as its point man. [Link]
And in case there was ever any doubt, lobbying is what makes things happen in Congress:
Six Republican senators endorsed the U.S.-India nuclear-power deal, as more than 20 foreign-policy specialists, including three former ambassadors to South Asia, urged Congress to approve the agreement.
Sens. George Allen of Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Ted Stevens of Alaska bring a wide range of influence to the effort to win congressional approval of the agreement signed by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to the U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC). [Link]
“This is an historic step for both countries and USINPAC stands with President Bush and Prime Minister Singh in moving this process forward. In fact, for the past eight months, USINPAC has aggressively worked to get key Members of Congress on board and we will not rest until this agreement is signed into law,” said Sanjay Puri, the Chairman of USINPAC. [Link]
On a related note, Indolink.com recently had a good article summarizing a 2004 paper titled: Subcontinental Divide Asian Indians and Asian American Politics by Wendy K. Tam Cho and Suneet P. Lad (subscription required for full paper). Cho and Lad examined both the facts and the myths of Indian American political power as judged by campaign contributions among other factors.
A new study claims that media impressions of Asian American contributions are shaped largely by fast and loose commentary glibly put forth and then recirculated among politicians, activists, pundits, and journalists. “Beyond the many casual statements lacking hard evidence, we know little about the patterns of Asian American campaign contributions.”
In earlier studies on Asian American campaign contribution, Wendy K. Tam Cho provided evidence for the theory of symbolic contributing, that is, a large portion of Asian American contributions can be seen as a symbolic expression of support toward one’s own ethnic group.
The authors note that political contributions from Asian Indians have risen dramatically in the past couple of decades. “In just 20 short years, contributions have burgeoned from almost nothing to approximately $8 million in a single election cycle. Even accounting for inflation cannot negate the dramatic magnitude of the increase.”
The number of contributors has also risen from just a few hundred to approximately 8,000 separate contributions. “Although we cannot make definite assessments of potential influence, the coupling of this rapid rate of increase in donations with the fact that the Asian Indian group has one of the highest median incomes of any group in the United States should not be lost on political observers.”
The study points out that the rate of growth in Indian-American campaign contributions exceed the growth rate of the population. Whereas the Indian-American population has doubled during each decennial census, the rise in contributions has far overshadowed even this phenomenal population growth.
The study concludes that, as a group, Indian Americans “display all the makings of a coveted bloc, untethered to either major party.” They go on to predict “the perfect strategy may engender the group into a partisan fold early and sustain their loyalty for generations to come” and that “the political development of the Asian Indian group is malleable…” [Link]
That sounds kind of ominous to me. “The perfect strategy may engender the group into a partisan fold early and sustain their loyalty…” I wonder if we will see either party come up with that perfect strategy during debate of this issue.