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What the US poll results mean for India

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
November 08, 2006 14:10 IST
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Apparently Karl Rove, the architect behind President George W Bush's presidential victories as well as GOP's successes in Congress in the past, is reported to have called his boss and informed him that the Republicans have lost the House of Representatives to the Democrats. This, even as the latter are poised to take the Senate, having won four of the six seats required to secure a majority.

Rove, a deputy White House chief of staff, is a Machiavellian Republican political strategist and is often called 'Bush's brain'.

Political pundits and analysts are saying this is a devastating blow to Rove's political acumen and is, moreover, an overwhelming referendum against Bush's Iraq policy and the rampant corruption among the Republican leadership in Congress.

With the Democrats taking more than the 15 seats required to take the House -- which at the time of this report had increased to 25 -- will now result in Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, becoming in January, the first woman Speaker in US history.

At the time of this report, not a single Democratic incumbent had lost a seat while several senior Republican lawmakers bit the dust.

The Democratic juggernaut in the House will also necessarily lead to several changes in the chairmanship of several important committees that could impact on policy toward India.

Among these is the International Relations Committee, which will now be led by Tom Lantos of California, who is a strong proponent of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement and the co-author of the enabling House legislation that was approved overwhelmingly to facilitate the deal.

However, Lantos goes ballistic over India's close relations with Iran and has warned that if New Delhi doesn't change its way and fall in line with US actions against Tehran, not just the US-India nuclear accord, but the whole envisaged strategic partnership could be jeopardised.

Pelosi is also a strong supporter of the US-India nuclear deal and India's anti-terrorism efforts, having strongly condemning the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks. She has vowed to closely cooperate with India to combat international terrorism.

But, like all Democrats, Pelosi has acknowledged in interviews with that she is concerned over outsourcing of American jobs to India and that this is an issue that has to be revisited.

On the Senate side, Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown who ousted Republican incumbent Mike De Wine, is also a strong supporter of US-India relations and one of the founders of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, which was constituted in the House over 12 years ago.

Incidentally, Brown backpacked in India just after he graduated from college and is an ardent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi.

He voted in support of the US-India nuclear deal in the House and if the enabling legislation is not taken up in the Lame Duck session and has to be re-introduced in the Senate next year, is expected to support the vote.

However, Brown and other Democrats, emboldened by their performance both in the House and Senate -- and since non-proliferation is an article of faith for the party -- could push for further concessions from India. These may be untenable where New Delhi is concerned and put paid to the legislation being enacted in sync with the Joint Statement announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush after their July 2005 meeting in White House.

Meanwhile, incumbent Virginia Republican Senator George Allen was locked in a virtual dead heat with his Democratic opponent Jim Webb and there is a strong possibility that the final result may not be known for days until the absentee ballots are counted.

Allen was ahead by 16 points in July and the Democrats did not even consider Webb a viable challenger, until Allen called an Indian American, Shekar Sidarth, a volunteer in the Webb campaign, a 'macaca', considered a racial slur.

Ever since, Allen's lead plummeted amidst charges of a past racist record and if Webb finally prevails, it would be historical, in that, in many ways, his racial slur against an Indian American may have led to his downfall.

After his 'macaca' remark, Allen was constantly on the defensive, refuting charges that he was a racist and following an interview with, where he promised to apologise to Sidarth, did so the next day.

He also continued to reassure the Indian-American community that he be judged by his track record of being consistently pro-India and pro-Indian American, in terms of his strong support for the US-India nuclear deal and his advocating the expansion of the H-1B visa program, the majority of the recipients being Indian high tech workers.

Allen said Tuesday night that 'this has been an interesting election and the election continues'.

Even if the Democrats fall short by a seat or two in taking the Senate, Congressional sources acknowledge that while they support the nuclear deal and Democratic Leader Harry Reid has said he is committed to bringing up the enabling legislation for a debate and vote during the lame-duck session, he may not be able to halt the various amendments his colleagues have on tap.

These could make time run out, particularly since the last thing they would want to do is to give Bush a foreign policy victory, at a time when his political capital has dissipated to a new low.

Last week, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the chief US negotiator of the US-India nuclear deal, declined to answer what he termed hypothetical questions as to the fate of the agreement is there's a change of the political guard in Congress and Democrats wrest control, and take over the helm of important committees.

He simply asserted that he still believed bipartisan support for the civilian nuclear deal would continue regardless of the vagaries of the the political changes that may occur, saying, "I think most members of Congress agree with us that this is a very important element in our new strategic partnership."

Former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in the Clinton administration, Karl F Inerfurth, told that even if a change in the political guard in Congress results in the deal not being cleared in the lame-duck session when the Senate returns to work next week, while the process would be dislocated, it wouldn't be the end of the deal.

"It would be back to square one, but a more educated square one," he said. "Because a lot of the educational work that has gone into this will certainly carry over to a new Congress."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC