Tuesday, June 3, 2014

INDIA: Faleomavaega Rips Obama, Clinton, Kerry Policies; Gabbard Upstages Him; Hindu PAC Ignores Him

Following the victory of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recent Indian national elections, American Samoa Delegate Eni Faleomavaega lashed out at President Obama's policies in a news release containing remarks his office had inserted into the Congressional Record on May 19 congratulating the sub-continent's new prime minister.

Suggesting that Modi had scored a "resounding victory despite the U.S. using every recourse it could to disrupt his destiny," without naming them Faleomavaega made it clear he felt Obama, Clinton and her successor John Kerry had made a mistake in not restoring a visa that first had been revoked in 2005 for his alleged role in riots in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister at the time.

Nonetheless, despite the United States getting it wrong with India,” continued the delegate,who had pleaded with Obama, Clinton and Kerry without success (and once again underscoring his lack of influence) to build a friendship with Modi, “Narendra Modi is looking ahead . . . (a)nd he is the key player for improved relations between the U.S. and India.” No kidding! 

Almost as if to stick his thumbs in the eyes of the White House and State Department, he made certain it was noted for the Record that “As a token of friendship and in commemoration of the fulfillment of his destiny . . . a flag was flown over the United States Capitol at my request in honor of him on April 7, 2014, to mark victory’s dawn.” Preliminary results indicating a BHJ victory were not announced until May 16.

Faleomavaega also made it known that “I have personally met with Shri (the Sanskrit equivalent of “Mr.”) Modi as far back as 2010 and I know him to be a sincere man who stands against corruption and for inclusive growth and development.” Yet, even as the ailing, 13-term delegate was having his statement inserted into the Congressional Record, freshman U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) was upstaging him in her own reaction to her fellow Hindu's victory.

Three days before Faleomavaega's statement, as Modi's victory was becoming evident, Gabbard, who is younger than Faleomavaega's children and has a long, bright future in politics, released her own statement, which said: “I recently spoke with Narendra Modi by phone and congratulated him and the Bharatiya Janata Party for winning a majority vote in India’s Lok Sabha [Congress]. This election was an extraordinary achievement for the 550 million Indians who voted over the course of six weeks in some 930,000 polling locations. I look forward to working with Mr. Modi and other members of the Indian government toward our mutual goals of peace, stability, and economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region. A partnership between the world's two largest and greatest democracies is necessary for us to successfully address the many global challenges we face, including economic growth, bilateral trade, the environment, terrorism, and security." 
 
No smirking, no reference to success or failures of U.S. policy, just looking to the future. In the ailing Faleomavaega's absence, Gabbard has on occasion served as Ranking Member of the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee, a position it took Faleomavaega years to achieve. Whether or not Faleomavaega also tried to telephone Modi but without success is not known. Perhaps the fragility of his health would not permit such an attempt. Although he publicly welcomed the election of the first Samoan as a voting Member of Congress, it has to be grating on him how fast Gabbard has risen in stardom within their shared Democratic Party.  She has already appeared on more national televison news programs in a year and a half than he has in 25 years.

Whatever Faleomavaega'a relationship with Modi, it is clear that on May 31 the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HAPAC)  announced its endorsements for 2014 congressional primary elections. In its statement releasing the names of candidates it is backing, HAPAC said it is supporting them “because of their strong track record of work for the Hindu American community. HAPAC looks forward to supporting others candidates for political office.”

It should come as no surprise that Gabbard topped the list followed by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the full House Foreign Affairs Committee. Two California Democrats, Reps. Brad Sherman and Ami Bera, the latter the only Asian Indian currently in Congress, were next, followed by House India and Indian American Caucus Co-Chairman Joe Crowley (D-NY) and caucus member Eric Swallwell (D-CA). Rounding out the list, the PAC also announced it was financially assisting state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-CA), who is running against Swallwell, and two other Hindus running for Congress: Dr. Manan Trivedi (D-PA), and Swati Dandekar (D-IA).

Because Congressional Asia Pacific Caucus Chairman-emeritus Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) has been very helpful to Hindu Americans, the PAC is not contributing to either of his Hindu opponents, Ro Khanna (D) and Dr. Vanilla Singh (R), urging voters to vote their conscience. This despite the fact that Honda In 2012 signed onto a letter to the U.S Department of State asking it to continue denying a visa to Modi.

Although incumbents such as Gabbard and Royce face little or no competition for renomination or reelection, HAPAC stressed that this was funding for primaries,. It is quite possible, however, that they are stressing that this is primary funding so they can come back and make additional contributions to the same candidates for the general election. In one case where they have two favored candidates contesting a seat, they are giving money to both, in another case to neither.

Curiously missing from this initial list, of course, is Faleomavaega, even though the aging Samoan is already facing four announced challengers with several more thought to be standing in the wings. Maybe HAPAC is waiting to see if due to his lingering illness Faleomavaega decides to retire.  For now, not even a nod to his existence.

It will be interesting to see if another Indian PAC, USINPAC, makes a contribution to Faleomavaega, as it has in the past.  Included in his statement for the Congressional Record congratulating and praising Modi, Faleomavaega made it a point to insert this sentence: “I also commend Mr. Sanjay Puri, Founder and President of USINPAC, for championing the cause and work of Shri Narendra Modi early on in the U.S. Congress when India’s next Prime Minister was Chief Minister of Gujarat. 

Whether that was a payoff for past support or a down payment on future contributions remains to be seen. His statement was silent about HAPAC. USINPAC has donated at least $22,000 to the delegate's reelection campaigns in chunks from $2,000 to $5,000 going back as far as 2002 and there is no reason to expect they will abandon him this year, regardless of what HAPAC does.

Faleomavaega's statement got major play in the Indian media but not in American Samoa. It could be the local media did not consider it newsworthy. On the other hand, perhaps Samoa News, where Faleomavaega's sister-in-law, the territory's Democratic National Committeewoman, is on the editorial staff, spiked the story to save the delegate embarrassment for not gaining HAPAC funding or even an endorsement for re-election after all the fuss he has made about Modi, a Hindu. As much attention as his statement garnered in India and in the Indian American community, the snub hardly seems an oversight. 
 
Of course, all this is public information available on the Internet and one need not be in Washington to put two and two together. But our local media seems to be incapable of gathering and analyzing facts. Meanwhile, as expected, former governor Togiola Tulafono has tossed hat into the ring, becoming the fourth announced candidate for Congress. Other than emphasizing he wanted to work to restore a good working relationship between the delegate and local leaders, saying “my feeling is, we need to refocus cooperation” between the Office of the Delegate and territorial leaders and that the Delegate “must serve the supporting role” of the leaders, in serving the territory and her people” he kept his announcement on a positive note. “refocusing cooperation is a thinly veiled code phrase for pointing out that Faleomavaega has a fierce independent streak that has put him at odds with a succession of governors, including or perhaps especially Togiola. The two men do not like each other but Togiola did not take the bait offered by Samoa News to question Faleomavaega's health.

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