Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Intense Lobbying

24 Jun, 2006    ·   2049

Ashok Sharma examines the pro-deal lobbying effort and evaluates its chances of success

The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal has reached its final stages and will be tabled before the Senate and House of Representative for voting to become an Act. Lobbying becomes prominent at this stage. Since it has been realized by India and Indian Americans that an easy passage of the agreement is not possible, various pro-nuclear lobbying activities by the affluent 1.6 million Indian Americans have intensified.

Although Republicans have the required majority in the US Congress and the deal is being backed by the Bush administration, this does not ensure the deal's passage. There are deeply entrenched actors within the US State Department and the non-proliferation lobby that oppose the US decision to make India an exception to nuclear regulations. Anti Indo-US nuclear lobby groups and nonproliferation activists like David Albright, prominent Republicans like Indiana's Dan Burton and California's Dana Rohrabacher continue to resist the deal. Pakistan and China are also making efforts to block it in Congress.

The lobbying against this nuclear pact, meant to address India's looming energy crisis, has energized Indian Americans. Their intensive drive to support the nuclear pact includes heavy spending on lobbying, campaign contributions and public relations to persuade Congress to approve the deal. They are hiring lobbyists, organizing fund-raisers, and inundating Capitol Hill with briefings, phone calls and petitions. They have organized meetings with prominent members of Congress to muster support for the deal and began with lobbying members of the Foreign Relations Committees in both houses to get the bill on the floor of the house. Indian Americans and the Indian government had been actively lobbying for Henry Hyde's support for the pact.

For many Indian Americans this increasingly contentious battle in Congress is a unique opportunity to demonstrate their growing political influence in their adopted country. Looking at the divisions within the India Caucus in Congress over the intrinsic worth of the deal, Indian Americans, along with leading India Caucus members Garry Ackerman, Frank Pallone, John Cornyn and Indian American organizations like USINPAC, IACPA, IAFPE are lobbying to ensure that the 39 members of the India Caucus in the Senate and more than 180 members of the Caucus in the House of Representatives vote for the deal.

India has reached out to the 43 member Black Caucus and 20 member Hispanic Caucus to expand its legislative support. The Black Caucus has been wary of India's closeness to the Republican administration and Jewish groups. There exists a traditional antipathy between African Americans and Jewish Americans. India's vote against the Iranian nuclear programme has strengthened support from the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) to collaborate on countering terrorism, security, sale of high tech weapons etc.

Much of the lobbying has focused on lawmakers from the New York metropolitan region, with its heavy concentration of Indian-Americans. USINPAC is organizing a fundraiser this month for Senator Hillary Clinton, co-chairwoman of the Senate's 39-member India Caucus. She has not taken any position on the deal so far and her support is deemed crucial. Most members of the India Caucus are Democrats, but many of them have shown reluctance in supporting the bill, since they take the nuclear non-proliferation agenda very seriously. The support of Hillary Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton, former President and a prominent Democratic leader, who seriously pursued non-proliferation policies, can ensure the support of a majority of the Democrats for the nuclear pact.

In addition, the United States -India Business Council (USIBC) and Indian American Friendship Council are also involved in lobbying for the nuclear deal. USIBC is working with Patton Boggs, one of the leading and most expensive lobbying firms in Washington, DC. Patton Boggs, reportedly hired by the Indian government at a cost of $1.3 million, joins Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, headed by Robert Blackwill (former US ambassador to India) and the Venable Law firm, to launch a concerted lobbying campaign to convince US Congressmen that approving the necessary changes in US non-proliferation law is essential for the strategic partnership between US and India. The Indian government has also retained former Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana to help in its lobbying efforts

Looking at the powerful influence of ethnic lobby groups, like the Jewish Americans and business groups on US foreign policy making in the past, lobbying by the Indian government and Indian Americans backed by US business interest groups and the Bush administration, a safe passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal in the US Congress could well be secured.