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Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
US Indians optimistic over elections
By Seema Sirohi in Washington

Much of the Indian diaspora in the United States is looking on with confident optimism at the mother country's general elections.
Sonia Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee
Some US-based children don't know the difference between these two

For the first time, they say, India looks like an international powerhouse, not a shrinking, complaining country unable to deal with the rest of the world.

India's confidence comes from its growing economy, its pool of talented people and now its ability to offer peace with Pakistan.

They say, "we like this image of India, thank you, and could we please not go back to the bad old days of Third World whining, the Mother Teresa formula of poverty-is-a-virtue and less is more?"

Hindutva concerns

Indian Americans want economic liberalisation because it benefits them. But they tend to be reluctant to openly say they want the current ruling coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) re-elected.

South Asian shops in New York
Economic liberalisation is a key issue for Indian Americans

They just want the present to continue and turn into a brighter future.

They do not want a return to the nightmarish past when there was not even a decent road between Delhi and Jaipur.

"India is firing on all cylinders," says Sanjay Puri, a young businessman who runs the US India Political Action Committee, a group that lobbies the US Congress.

"If something is working, why change it?" he asks.

"No matter which government comes to power, trade and economy will drive everything. That engine can't be turned off. The world has changed."

If questions about Hindutva - the Hindu-centric nationalist ideology - and associate philosophies are raised, some Indian Americans shy away and show concern about the governing Hindu nationalist BJP's social agenda.

Their answer? Jettison that baggage and ride on the economic success.

Thomas Abraham, chairman of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin
Thomas Abraham warns the BJP not to follow hardline Hinduism

"It is about time they grew up and shed those stunts they pulled as a younger party," says Karan Capoor, a 30-something expert in environmental finance.

"I have been very, very sceptical about the BJP's social pandering. They should run on their economic record, not on the shameful tactics they employ sometimes."

Karan, who grew up in India but has settled here, says the second generation Indian Americans are generally "under informed" about the Indian elections.

They tend to parrot the views of their parents.

"There are all sorts of views within the community. I have been surprised by the generalisations some of them make. Just as my friends do in India," says Karan.

Economic resurgence

Many Indian Americans are happy to enjoy the status of ethnic minority in the US but they can be unsympathetic to minorities in India.

Congress won't vanish. The sons are coming in. Rahul is there. Natwar Singh's son is there
SS Malhotra,
Overseas Congress Party

It is the country's economic resurgence that has caught their imagination.

Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are alright, but the cell phones and shopping malls of today's urban India are more in sync with what they know.

The glitter of "Shining India", as trumpeted in the government campaign to highlight its achievements, alleviates the embarrassment that their parents came from a country of hand pumps and Ambassador cars.

Thomas Abraham, chairman of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, says his children do not know the difference between the Congress Party and the BJP because they have grown up in the United States.

But they read about how India is destination number one for hi-tech jobs. Something must be going right.

Mr Abraham, reflecting the views of the older generation, wants the next government to make dual citizenship a reality and clarify procedures so that Indian Americans can finally feel at home.

Sanjay Puri (L) with Indiana Senator Richard Lugar (Rep)
India is firing on all cylinders, says Sanjay Puri (left)

He strongly believes that if the BJP tries to bring Hindutva-type measures "through the back door, it will collapse".

He insists that the larger Indian American community of nearly two million does not support the BJP and its social philosophy.

"It is a vocal minority that makes the noise," he says.

But there is growing anecdotal evidence that many Indian Americans have become sympathetic to the BJP over the years, just as they have shifted towards the Republican Party here.

The pro-BJP sentiments are centred in a mix of economic policies and a feeling that Indian secularism has failed in its objectives.

So where does all this leave Sonia Gandhi and Congress?

SS Malhotra, president of the Overseas Congress Party, says vehemently there is still a place for the grand old party of India.

She says nearly 3,000 Indian Americans showed up at the Hilton in New York's Manhattan to meet Sonia when she came in June 2001.

"Congress won't vanish. The sons are coming in. Rahul is there. Natwar Singh's son is there. Look at what's-his-name's son," she says, hunting for another who entered politics to carry on the family tradition.

"I met Sonia myself. I gave her suggestions and she was very, very receptive."

India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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Gandhi family loyalists back in from the cold, but no fresh blood in cabinet.




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