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Senator monkeys with Indian boy
- Presidential hopeful caught in racism row after calling Sidarth ‘macaca’

Washington, Aug. 16: A 20-year-old American student of Indian origin is an unlikely candidate to ruin the presidential aspirations of a US politician hoping to succeed George W. Bush in the White House in 2009, but that is exactly what appears to have happened this week.

George Allen, Virginia’s charismatic politician, former state governor and current US Senator, a hopeful for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential election, may not have realised that his biggest political ambition was about to be dashed when he called S.R. Sidarth a “macaca” in front of 100-odd white people.

Macaca is a strain of monkey that is found in the eastern hemisphere. But the term is also used as a racial slur in many parts of the world.

On Monday, at an election meeting in southwestern Virginia, Allen referred to Sidarth, a volunteer working with Allen’s Democratic rival James Webb in the ongoing campaign for Virginia’s Senate seat, as a macaca when he found the Indian youth trailing him everywhere on his re-election tour with a video camera.

It is common practice in the US for rival politicians to assign volunteers to shadow their opponents with video cameras to catch the candidate making a faux pas or taking contradictory stands on issues to satisfy special interests or groups.

Such gaffes are later used to produce campaign commercials for radio and TV.

In the current controversy, Sidarth, son of Shekar Narasimhan, a Virginia banker, joined Allen’s rival Webb during the summer holidays as a field organiser for this November’s Senate race.

A few days ago, when Allen announced that he was embarking on a state-wide tour across Virginia, Webb’s campaign managers assigned Sidarth to follow Allen on the tour.

Sidarth, a student at the University of Virginia, said on CNN yesterday that he had met Allen and introduced himself.

However, on Monday, when Allen spotted Sidarth with his trademark video camera in the small town of Breaks, he lost his cool.

“This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He is with my opponent. He is following us around everywhere,” Allen said in front of an all-white audience.

After criticising Webb in his speech, Allen returned to the subject of Sidarth’s presence in the audience.

“Let us give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”

The reference could not have been more inappropriate because Sidarth was born in Virginia’s Fairfax County and went to school there. He is not an immigrant as Allen probably assumed.

Within hours, all hell broke loose for the Republican Senator and presidential hopeful.

Democrats, liberals, civil rights supporters and others immediately seized on Allen’s remarks and accused him of racism.

To make matters worse, the Senator has always been suspected of being a closet racist: many years ago, he was criticised for keeping a Confederate flag of the pro-slavery states in the American Civil War on his property.

As Virigina’s governor, Allen was lambasted for a proclamation to celebrate “Confederate History Month” without mentioning slavery.

“It is unacceptable that Senator Allen used a racial slur to refer to a 20 year-old native Virginian of Indian descent. Senator Allen needs to explain himself, and he owes the Indian American community an apology,” the Indian American Leadership Initiative said in a statement yesterday.

Sanjay Puri, who heads the US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), said in a press release yesterday: “We spoke briefly with Senator Allen on the phone today. We stressed to the Senator that the Indian American community is very upset, and frankly, very angry about his statements.

“The Senator pledged to have a full and open in person dialogue on this matter as soon as tomorrow. USINPAC considers this to be a very serious matter, and we look forward to having a frank discussion with Senator Allen.”

In a statement to The Washington Post, Allen apologised for his “macaca” jibe aimed at Sidarth.

“In no way was it meant to demean him, and I am sorry if he was offended,” Allen said.

Sidarth is not, however, accepting the Senator’s apology. “If he wants to make an apology to me, he can talk to me personally rather than doing this through the press,” the Indian youth said.

Allen responded to that by saying: “I look forward to seeing him (at the next campaign event). The point of the matter was to chide and poke fun at my opponent, not any of his staff.”

The Post said in a forceful editorial titled George Allen’s America that “by mocking Mr Sidarth, Senator George F. Allen demeaned only himself.”

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