June 5, 2004
Legislators Interact with Delegates of
Despite the fact that an important vote on minimum wage was being held on the floor, nearly two dozen members of the House and Senate appeared at a formal luncheon jointly co-sponsored by the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) and the Association of Indians in America (AIA) last Thursday. Over 200 delegates from these national organizations came from all over the country, including a busload, headed by NFIA Regional Vice President Lal Motwani from New York, to attend the luncheon that was followed by a White House briefing in the afternoon. The luncheon was arranged in the Rooms B339 and B340 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.
Although NFIA has sponsored these events annually over many years, this was only the second time that these two organizations joined hands in sponsoring the luncheon in the spirit of unity. It was a posh and formal sit-down luncheon with Indian food served. The Congressmen started to arrive, one after the other, soon after the start of the program at 11:30 a.m. Every one of them drew the attention of the audience to the recent elections in India and paid a great tribute to the democratic manner in which the process was held. “It is amazing that a country with one billion people went to polls in such a large numbers and peacefully voted to change the regime,” said Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, who founded the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Congressman Joseph Crowley, the current co-chair of the caucus echoed Pallone’s sentiments saying that many other countries, including United States need to learn a lesson from Indian Democracy. Crowley also apprised the audience that a bill by the India Caucus was being proposed listing the benefits of out sourcing by the United States. “This bill describes all the positive aspects of the outsourcing and negates the arguments of the critics who claim that jobs are lost,” said Crowley. Representative Joseph Wilson, the other co-chair of the caucus emphasized the need to continue the policy of peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan. He said he was absolutely sure the government of Manmohan Singh would follow the efforts made by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He praised the new prime minister as a decent and capable man who had initiated many economic reforms when he was a finance minister. Wilson and other members of the House of Representatives were very optimistic about the enhanced relations between the United States and India.
Congressman Bob Filner, D-California, whose district includes, Imperial Valley from which once an Indian American, Dalip Singh Saund was elected, recalled the contributions of Saund saying he was surprised to discover during his research on the district that it was once represented by an Indian American. He was even more surprised to find out that Saund’s wife was a mentor to him. Filner paid a glowing tribute to Indian Americans for their hard work, good family values, and work ethics.
Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, described his positive impressions of people of Indian origin. He said he had come in contact with some the most capable individuals. “You have really enriched America by your culture,” said Brownback. Pallone also indicated that he was drafting a bill on the Bush Administration’s decision to grant Pakistan a non-NATO ally status. He said he would build in sufficient safeguards that the declaration is not used to provide military arms. “We will be against providing military assistance to Pakistan,” declared Pallone.
Other issues, including open immigration policies, state sponsored terrorism by Pakistan in the Kashmir region, and peace between India and Pakistan were also brought to the attention of elected officials who all positively reacted to them. The Congressmen agreed with the officials of NFIA to work towards peace between India and Pakistan and to increase economic and social contacts between the two countries. Congressman Alcee Hastings praised the two Indian associations in sponsoring this event. “You are doing the right thing by coming to Washington DC and lobbying us. This is the right approach to get to know us and apprise us your issues,” observed Hastings. “I hope you continue to do this, and I urge you to continue this process.”
Two members of the Embassy of India, Sunil Jain, head of the Chancery and Ashok Sajjanhar, minister for political affairs joined the luncheon. The Charge de Affaires was out of town.
Upendra Chivukula who has been elected to the New Jersey State assembly addressed the gathering and said that he was proud of being an Indian American. “I got elected to the State Assembly without making my name to be anglicized. This is a great country open to people like me,” emphasized Chivukula who specially came from New Jersey to attend this event.
Niraj Baxi, the President of NFIA addressing the gathering, talked about the role of NFIA as the largest umbrella organization in serving the community and be a single voice for the community. He praised the efforts of Parthasarthy Pillai, chairman of the NFIA Foundation and his team in organizing this luncheon. Pillai was the main person in organizing this event. “Pillai spent countless hours in making the event successful,” said Rajen Anand, the president-elect of NFIA.
Piyush Agarwal, the past president of AIA said the AIA was the oldest organization of Indians in America established in 1967. He noted that the AIA and NFIA have worked together in the past and pledged to continue working in the spirit of cooperation. The AIA presented plaques to Crowley, Wilson and Pallone, which were originally scheduled to present at the AIA dinner in Chicago, but they were unable to attend the function. The plaques honored them and paid tribute to them for their efforts on behalf of the caucus in enhancing US-India relations. In addition to the elected officials, a large number Congressional staff were also in attendance at the luncheon, chatting freely with the NFIA and AIA delegates.
Following the luncheon, the delegates of NFIA and AIA moved to the White
House and were addressed by four experts of the Bush Administration. For
many of the people, it was their first experience to visit the White House
and expression of excitement and joy was quite evident on their faces.