| Aishwarya Rai shakes hands with New York Governor George Pataki at the fund-raiser. (PTI)
Washington, Nov. 4: If Indian-Americans are joining the political mainstream in their adopted country, can Bollywood stars be far behind'
In the presidential election two years ago in the euphoria of Bill Clinton’s visit to India, Americans of Indian descent, especially in the Silicon Valley area, showed their clout by donating big bucks to the campaigns of both Al Gore and George W. Bush.
As America goes to the polls to choose a new Congress and elect state Governors, Indian-Americans are diversifying in their politicking. With former Miss World and actress Aishwarya Rai in tow.
George Pataki, who is seeking a third term as New York’s Republican Governor, found to his dismay at a fund-raiser the other day by Indian-Americans in his honour that he was not the centre of attraction he was supposed to be at the event. Instead, Pataki found that the cynosure of all eyes at the function was a petite figure with black hair, clad in a bright pink sari and a golden string blouse. Aishwarya Rai!
Pataki decided to find out who this woman who had intruded into his sphere of importance was. But before he could do so, an Aishwarya look-alike in ghaghra choli took to the floor, dancing to Nimbooda, made famous by the beauty-queen-turned-actress in her movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
Pataki did eventually discover Aishwarya. New York’s ethnic Indian newspapers published front-page pictures of the otherwise stern-looking Governor basking in Aishwarya’s carefully controlled smiles.
But the fund-raiser itself was like nothing else that American politicians go to. Not even when Ronald Reagan, a one-time actor, was a candidate or when liberal Hollywood figures like Jane Fonda grace such events.
Candidates who attend fund-raisers normally speak at length — about issues that concern those who organise them. But at the fund-raiser where Aishwarya was the main attraction, Pataki decided he would confine his speech to just 10 minutes: a feat even in the US for a politician seeking election.
But Pataki should not mind at all. The event, which was hosted by diamond magnate Andy Shenoy, raised $80,000 for the Governor’s re-election.
Aberrations like Aishwarya’s contribution to the US political process apart, Indian-Americans have been far more active in this “mid-term poll” here than in any previous American election. And with significant results.
Their most spectacular achievement so far in this year’s electoral process has been to secure the political elimination of hardcore India-baiter, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.
The African-American Congresswoman from Georgia, supported by Pakistanis and Khalistanis, has gone so far as to allege that the Indian government engineered the massacre of bus passengers in Kashmir and that it conspired to blow up a passenger aircraft.
Working with Jewish groups, Indian-Americans made sure that McKinney was defeated in her Democratic party’s primary itself.
Indian-Americans also succeeded in seeing that the same fate befell Congressman Earl Hilliard, another anti-India Democrat from Alabama.
Says Narayan D. Keshavan, the founding executive director of the India Caucus on Capitol Hill: “With the departure of these two vehemently pro-Islamic and anti-India lawmakers, both of whom happen to be African-Americans, the tone of the Congressional Black Caucus towards Indian and Indian-American issues will get moderated.”
A month ago, Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli, an India-baiter, had to quit the race in New Jersey after sure defeat stared him in the face in a seat that should normally have been a walkover for Democrats.
He became a Congressman at the age of 31 and had been elected to the House of Representatives seven times, to the Senate once.
Indians, who abound in New Jersey, were pleased with Torricelli’s political demise although it was brought about by financial scandals culminating in a severe reprimand by the Senate ethics committee.
Ironically, a lot of attention has been bestowed on the campaign by Indian-American Ayesha Nariman for a House of Representatives seat from New York: for the wrong reasons.
Hers is probably the most frugal campaign in the current poll, where candidates spend millions of dollars in TV advertisements, rallies and other events.
Even her Democratic party has written her off in a sure seat for the Republicans. The biggest contribution to Nariman’s election fund has been $500 made by a fellow Parsi after reading about her plight.
Nariman has competition from another Indian-American Democrat, who is contesting for the Congress from New Jersey. Vij Pawar, 27, has raised just over $8,000, but to his credit, he has spent less than half of it on his campaign.
Which is, perhaps, wise. Because New Jersey Democrats say that if Pawar perseveres, he has a future ahead in politics and age is on his side.