After scoring a scoop with his interview with US President George W Bush -- the only interview the president has granted any South Asian publication -- last month, Aziz Haniffa, National Affairs Editor at India Abroad, the leading newspaper for the Indian-American community owned by rediff.com, scored a unique double last week by interviewing Democratic Presidential candidate Senator John F Kerry.
In an exclusive interview, published in this week's issue of India Abroad, Kerry refused to be nailed down to a commitment that if elected President he would appoint an Indian American to a cabinet or sub-cabinet level position.
He acknowledged the "extraordinary contributions to all aspects of American society" by Indian Americans and pledged that "as President, I will make every effort to involve Indian Americans at the highest levels of my administration."
In the interview, Kerry, evidently buoyed by his victory over President Bush in their first debate September 30, took some swipes at the president for what he believed was the Bush administration's zero-sum policy toward India and Pakistan.
The first of a three-part interview:
Why should Indian Americans vote for you?
The issues of concern to the Indian-American community will be priorities in my administration. They have been throughout my career. During my 20 years in the Senate, I have consistently fought for issues important to the Indian-American community -- economic and educational opportunity; a meaningful role in politics; justice and fair play; an end to discrimination, ethnic profiling and harassment; and a genuine partnership between India and the Unites States. We share the same goals.
If elected President, would you appoint Indian Americans to senior positions in your administration, may be even to a cabinet or sub-cabinet level position?
Indian Americans have made extraordinary contributions to all aspects of American society. It is time they are fully represented in the government. As President, I will make every effort to involve Indian Americans at the highest levels of my administration. The Democratic Party has historically done a better job than the Republican Party when it comes to making the government truly representative of the diversity of America. Still there is more we can do, and when I am President, we will.
Nearly 50 years ago Dalip Singh Saund, a Democrat, was elected to Congress. I was very disappointed to read (India Abroad, September 3) that President George W Bush claimed Bobby Jindal would be the first Indian American elected to Congress. The President was wrong. He did a disservice to Saund. The Indian-American community and our relationship with India are too important to receive attention only at election time.
If elected, would a trip to India be one of your foreign policy priorities?
Absolutely. Presidential visits to India should become a matter of tradition, as visits to European capitals are. Presidents (Bill) Clinton and (Jimmy) Carter went to India. Given the importance of our relationship, it makes sense for every American President to visit the world's largest democracy -- at least once. I am disappointed that President Bush has not made this a priority. A Presidential visit is important to support growing ties -- something that I believe to be in our national interest, and in India's interest.
I was in India in December 1999, a few months before President Clinton's visit, to participate in the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit. I had an opportunity to meet a number of Indian officials, including then prime minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, his national security adviser and the defense minister. During the course of these meetings, it became very clear to me that India wanted a better relationship with the United States.
President Bush, in an exclusive interview with India Abroad, said he was 'absolutely committed to building an enhanced, comprehensive relationship with the government of India.' Will you be equally committed to such a relationship with India if elected?
Absolutely. It is vital we strengthen and broaden our relationship with India. Vajpayee rightly said our two countries are and should be 'natural allies.' When I gave a speech in the Senate in 2001 about the future of US-India relations, I used that same phrase. It is appropriate and important that we back the words with action. The time is long overdue for the United States to distinguish, once and for all, between India and Pakistan and to treat each differently and according to the demands of those bilateral relationships.
As President, I will recognise the vital global role India will play in the 21st century. I will work closely with New Delhi -- and with members of the Indian-American community -- to strengthen a relationship built on shared values and interests.
President Bush told India Abroad that if re-elected, he would move forward in his new initiative -- the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership -- with India to 'enhance our civil nuclear, space and high technology cooperation as India's export control and nonproliferation regimes are strengthened.' Will you pursue the initiative or do you have any fresh ideas in terms of a partnership with India strategic or otherwise?
The Bush administration has talked a lot about the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership with India. I am in agreement with the need for our two countries to find ways to move ahead in concert with our mutual security needs. Despite the lofty rhetoric, the NSSP has been more talk than action. I'll try to bring genuine improvement, not only on this, but on a range of economic and technological issues.
We should explore ways to broaden and deepen the bilateral relationship between our nations. There is simply no reason why our trade and investment with India should not dramatically increase.
India and Pakistan are engaged in a dialogue to resolve long-standing differences. The US and international community fears the differences could result in a nuclear conflict. How would you encourage the peace process if elected?
Clearly it's in everyone's interest to promote this easing of tension. More than a year ago India extended a 'hand of friendship' to Pakistan, and Pakistan responded. Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh and President (Pervez) Musharraf recently held their first face-to-face meeting at the United Nations. We should do all we can to support the leaders of India and Pakistan as they demonstrate the political will to move this process forward.
My administration will focus on developments in South Asia on a consistent basis, not only when crises arise. I agree with a recent report of an independent task force, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, that 'short-term crisis management' in the region is not enough. The task force said we should adopt a 'more active, and more forward-leaning American approach' to help India and Pakistan sustain efforts to normalise relations. As President, that is the approach I will take. I will work to promote intra-regional trade, including a normal economic relationship between India and Pakistan -- this is an important confidence building measure.
But we must keep in mind one fundamental fact. It is up to the two countries to reconcile long-standing differences, including Kashmir. The process must be 'homegrown.' But we should do everything we can to support it.
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Image: Dominic Xavier