The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Young politicos on charm-Washington trip
- Seven-member team of MPs arrives to present a different face of India

Washington, Sept. 6: India is unleashing its young, new MPs on the US.

At long last, it may be an answer to General Pervez Musharraf’s public relations methods, which have endeared the Pakistani dictator to Americans and frustrated New Delhi.

Four first-time members of the Lok Sabha, all of them defying the conventional wisdom about age in Indian politics, will be touring the US this entire week in what is clearly an effort to pick up the crucial momentum in Indo-US relations, disrupted by elections and a change of government in New Delhi.

Three of these four young MPs are from the Congress, one is from the BJP. They are part of a seven-member group put together by the Indo-US Parliamentary Forum (IUPF), the Indian counterpart of the US Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

What distinguishes this group is not just its age or the novel role of its members in Indian politics. The team has been crafted to appeal to the Americans. Four of the seven MPs have degrees from American universities. Two of them have private pilot’s licences and three have worked for US companies.

But that is not all. Many Americans in public office, who have already opened their doors to this unique delegation, are eagerly looking forward to meeting its members.

The reason: these Americans have worked with their fathers and together wrestled over some of the most intractable problems in Indo-US relations since New Delhi and Washington decided a decade ago to shed their historic baggage and embark on a new vision in bilateral ties.

Two MPs in this last category are Manvendra Singh of the BJP, son of former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh who conducted the most comprehensive security dialogue with the US in India’s history, and Milind Deora of the Congress, son of Mumbai Congress veteran Murli Deora who battled for better Indo-US relations when it was neither fashionable nor politically correct to do so.

The younger Singh graduated in Arab history and politics from Hampshire College in Amherst in the US. Two years ago, when father Deora was elected to the Rajya Sabha, the US Congress witnessed the unusual spectacle of Congressmen getting up on the floor of the House and congratulating, on record, his election from Maharashtra. He is now co-chairman of the IUPF.

For the co-chairman from the Opposition, Biju Janata Dal Lok Sabha member B.J. Panda, an alumnus of Michigan Technological University and leader of the delegation, this is his third visit to the US on behalf of the IUPF.

Ramesh Chandran, IUPF’s executive director, said the importance of the visit was that “it gives first-hand exposure to Indian lawmakers on a spectrum of important issues in bilateral relations with the US”.

The delegation is already attracting the attention of American chatterati because one of its members, Janata Party MP Vijay Mallya, opted to fly into the US to join the delegation on his private aircraft. Mallya first landed in San Francisco, where he owns a much-talked-about mansion in the city’s trendy, upscale suburb of Sausalito.

Indications that the strategy of exposing the new face of Indian democracy to Americans is already working came last week when the editorial board and columnists of The Washington Post invited the MPs for a meeting on Friday.

Musharraf breezes in and out of such meetings in the US while the Indian embassy often has a difficult time getting such appointments with visiting Indian leaders, even senior ministers.

Many doors at the White House and other government agencies have been easily opened for the team, but a disappointment will be the inability of Senator Hillary Clinton, co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, to meet the MPs because of her husband’s heart bypass surgery.

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