Charlotte (North Carolina), Sept. 4: For Indians looking for clues at the Democratic National Convention here about a new Obama administration’s interest in India, the outcome has been severely disappointing.
Unlike four years ago, when Democrats competed with Republicans under George W. Bush to emphasise that “the US and India are natural strategic allies”, a 40-page-long text of the Democratic “platform” for the November presidential election has dismissed New Delhi in one sentence.
India figures in the platform — the American equivalent of election manifesto of Indian political parties — in two more places: but in one instance the reference is prescriptive and demands that New Delhi should take “meaningful action” on climate change. In the second instance, India is mentioned in the context of the Group of Twenty (G-20) countries.
The marked lack of enthusiasm for India at the convention this year may be a reflection of recent disenchantment in Washington that New Delhi has neither moved faster on second generation economic reforms nor given American companies prized defence contracts or big export orders such as for nuclear power generation equipment, which would have created jobs in the US. It may also be the result of reduced activism by Indian Americans within the party structures in the run up to this year’s election.
Four years ago, on the margins of the Democratic convention in Denver, which nominated Barack Obama as the party’s candidate, one of the most sought after invitations by party leaders was a speaking slot at an event organised by the Indian-American Leadership Initiative, an organisation that worked for electing more Indian origin people to public offices in the US.
The presence of Indian Americans was so effective in Denver that Howard Dean, the then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, expressed the hope that a person of Indian origin will one day become US President.
Dean, a former governor of Vermont and a presidential aspirant himself eight years ago, said in a speech that Indian Americans “are leading the charge to strengthen our party, elect our candidates and ensure that we build a government that lives up to the ideals that inspired generations of Indian immigrants to make America their home”.
He was impressed enough by their activism to predict that convention delegates in Denver may perhaps “include the first Indian American who will manage a presidential campaign. Perhaps they include a future Democratic president of the US”.
In stark contrast to such optimism, Indian American presence at this year’s convention is so fractured and so disorganised that they have outsourced their only significant event in Charlotte to the American Jewish Committee. A reception on advancing Indian-Jewish partnership organised by this committee this evening will bring together most Indian Americans attending the Democratic convention.
A number of Indian Americans who worked to get Obama elected in 2008 have since joined his administration. As federal employees, many of them are now prohibited by the nature of their jobs from taking part in partisan political activity like attending a party convention.
Several others are contesting elections and they are eligible to be delegates to the convention. But with Democrats facing uphill election battles this year on account of anti-incumbency, these Indian Americans have chosen to skip Charlotte and, instead, stay in their electoral battle grounds to do the campaigning. In fact, it is not only Indian Americans who are skipping the convention to remain in their home turf and concentrate on campaigning. prominent Democratic Senators from traditionally Republican states, such as John Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri and a number of Congressmen have informed their party leadership that they will not travel to Charlotte for the convention.
The inability of Indian Americans under the circumstances to lobby with the Democratic leadership on issues relating to India has meant that there was no one to press for including those issues in the party platform.
The sole worthwhile reference to India is in the platform’s sub-section on Asia-Pacific in the chapter on what a new Obama administration would do towards “strengthening alliances, expanding partnerships and reinvigorating international institutions”.
It says the next Democratic administration “will continue to invest in a long term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region”.
In the section on climate change, the platform claims credit for taking a “leadership role in ongoing climate change negotiations, working to ensure that other major economies like China and India commit to taking meaningful action”. That, says the platform, is the reason why the US has worked regionally to build a clean energy partnership in Asia.
The final reference to India is in the context of the Obama administration’s initiative at a summit of heads of state and government hosted by the US President in Pittsburgh at which the G-20 was formally designated as “the premier forum for international economic coordination in recognition of the fact that 21st century economic discussions must include countries like China, India, Indonesia and Brazil”.
The platform acknowledges that “together the nations of the G-20 brought the world economy back from the brink of another depression”.