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India behind Kennedy magic
- Bengali Americans back Kathleen in race for Maryland governor

Washington, Nov. 3: The Kennedy magic and the financial and organisational support of Bengali Americans!

If Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, eldest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, is elected governor of Maryland this week, this potent electoral recipe will, in part, be responsible for her victory.

Townsend’s campaign trail in Maryland, one of the richest states in the US bordering the national capital, resonates to Bengali chatter and Bengali American businessmen have been raising funds for her campaign.

Last week, as Townsend met Indian correspondents at a College Park hotel — owned by, who else, but Mukesh Majmudar (not a spelling mistake, that’s how he writes it) — she was clearly enthused by such support. If she is elected, Diwali next year will be celebrated in the Maryland State House, the governor’s office-cum-residence in Annapolis, Townsend declared. “When I make policy, I will think of India. When I make appointments (to the administration) I will think of Indians,” she said.

Already, there are a few Bengali Americans — and others of Indian origin — in the State House, where Townsend has been Lt. Governor for eight years under another Democrat, Parris Glendening.

Pradip Ganguly, who was born in the Kalibari and later studied at the Raisina Bengali Higher Secondary School in New Delhi, is already chief economist of Maryland and heads the state’s department of business and economic development. Ganguly, who came to America as a student in 1976 and stayed on here, aims to groom Indian Americans to contest for political office instead of just supporting others already running for office.

“We need to be politically active ourselves and also have candidates who will support us so that we can be politically successful,” he said. “Our community is doing well here. We are no longer just looking for jobs. We need to be at the top table, making policy.”

Asuntha M. Chiang-Smith, special assistant in the State House, is almost like Townsend’s shadow through the hectic campaign in which she is neck-and-neck against Republican Robert Ehrlich Jr.

Chiang-Smith may not sound Indian, let alone Bengali and her looks are deceptive. Actually, her mother is from Calcutta and her father from Shanghai.

She is only in her 30s, but Chiang-Smith has already put in five years on the staff of the present US secretary for transportation, Norman Minetta, when he was a Congressman and another three-and-a-half years with Maryland’s Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski.

Chiang-Smith is now part of a core team in the State House, which includes a first generation Indian-American Uma Ahluwalia and has as immediate boss, the governor’s deputy chief of staff Sushant Sidh. All these Indian Americans can look forward to important appointments if Townsend wins on Tuesday.

Among the Bengali Americans providing financial muscle to Democrats in Maryland is Ashok Motayed, a civil engineering graduate from Jadavpur University who came to the US in 1971.

He eventually built up what became the largest Indian American-owned architectural engineering company in the US. Three years ago, he diversified into information technology.

Motayed’s canvas is wider than that of some Indian Americans involved in the Townsend campaign. He lends active support to a number of Democrats fighting in Maryland’s local and Congressional elections this week.

Among them is Christopher Van Hollen, Maryland’s state Senator, who is making a bid for the US House of Representatives. The Democrat’s father, Christopher Van Hollen Sr., was a US diplomat posted in Calcutta and Delhi and was ambassador to Sri Lanka.

The son went to school in Kodaikanal and Motayed predicts that whether he wins this week’s election or not Van Hollen Jr. is destined to be one of America’s top leaders in 10 to 15 years.

Reaching out to the inreasingly influential Asian American ethnic media here on behalf of Townsend during her campaign is another Bengali: Maryland journalist Devasish Ray.

An alumnus of St. Xaviers in Calcutta, Ray says the key to Townsend’s victory on Tuesday will be the turnout of minority voters, Indian Americans included. Hence her concentration on ethnic Asian media.

All in all, as her campaign which included four Asian American fundraisers draws to a close, Townsend promises that her administration will send an economic mission from Maryland to India to solidify the growing Indo-US engagement. If Townsend’s Bengali American supporters have their way, the mission will have Calcutta on its itinerary.

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