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'Friends of India' formed in US senate

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC
March 31, 2004 11:57 IST
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A new bipartisan organisation called 'Friends of India' has been formed in the US Senate, similar to the 10-year-old Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans in the US House of Representatives.

This is the first time in the history of the US Senate that a country-focussed caucus has been constituted and announcing its formation was the driving force behind the move Senator John Cornyn, a freshman Republican Senator from Texas who recently visited India.

Cornyn, who was the keynote speaker at the Second Annual Capitol Hill Gala Dinner of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin on Tuesday night following AAPI's two-day legislative conference, said co-chairing 'Friends of India' in the US Senate would be Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

He said that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and Minority Leader Thomas Dachle,South Dakota Democrat had also agreed to become members of the Friends of India group and so had 18 other Senators from both sides of the aisle.

Cornyn said he 'undertook the job of creating an India Caucus in the US Senate, because of the incredible experience I had in India and because of the importance of US-India relations'.

"The response has been really outstanding across the political spectrum to the formation of such a Caucus and to me that says a lot to work on the good relationship we have in the Senate toward promoting ties between our two democracies," he said.

Cornyn acknowledged that it was unfortunate that over the years, and particularly during the Cold War years, despite both the US and India being democracies with so much in common 'did not have good relations', and described it 'as an accident of history', which has to be put right. "We have to make up for lost time," he said.

Indian Ambassador Lalit Mansingh who has been promoting the idea of the Friends of India Caucus in the US Senate among Indian American groups said he was ecstatic over the news.

Mansingh, who was also present at the AAPI dinner, as Cornyn was announcing the launch, said he had been in touch with the Senators and others over forming such a group. He told "I have to commend all the Indian leaders of the Indian American community that finally made this happen."

"Cornyn came back very charged after his trip to India and said 'I want to do something to promote US-India relations' and so we said 'this is something you can do'," Mansingh said. "So we were in contact with him."

"Even though he was aware of the formation of such a group I wanted them to say it," Mansingh said. He said there would be a formal launch.

It is believed that some of the most powerful and influential lawmakers like Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, head of the Finance Committee, Thad Cochran,chairman of the Appropriations Committee -- all Republicans -- and leading Democrats like Senators Paul Sarbanes, Joe Lieberman, and Edward M Kennedy have all enthusiastically agreed to be part of the 'Friends of India' Caucus.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC