Blagojevich scandal prompts Indian American soul searching

December 25th, 2008 - 1:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaChicago, Dec 25 (IANS) The involvement of prominent Indian Americans in the unfolding corruption scandal involving Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has prompted some soul searching in the Indian American community.Some activists have stressed on the necessity of more ethics among fundraisers and the need for collective rather than individual political networking. “The Indian American community needs to work through organizations, rather than through individuals,” said Ann Lata Kalayil, former at-large member of the Democratic National Committee and past president of the political networking body, the Indo-American Democratic Organization.

“We need to learn the lessons of the last several months (referring to the series of investigations against Indian businessmen who organized fundraisers for the governor). We have to ask what is the benefit to the community through individual fundraisers?”

Kalayil also suggested a campaign contribution limit. Illinois now does not have a limit on the political contribution made by a single donor.

The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this week that Raghuveer Nayak, a Chicago businessman linked to the scandal, had sought immunity from federal authorities in return for cooperation in the investigation.

Prosecutors, according to the paper, said that Nayak was being squeezed by the governor for campaign cash in return for appointing US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr to the Senate seat vacated by president elect Barack Obama. Nayak, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, has declined to comment.

Another prominent local businessman, Iftekhar Shareef, has defended Nayak, saying: “He does it for the community. I don’t think he does it for himself.”

With the xenophobia fuelled by the current US recession and fears of outsourcing, there have been public accusations that Indians were good at “subverting” the system in the US.

“It is amazing how people come (to the US) and think we should change our entire value system to suit themselves,” said one reader on the web site of the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper.

Another added, “Indians are very sneaky business people. He is getting back something from donating to these politicians.”

A third reader wrote, “You need to go to a different gated community, buddy,” referring to a prison.

In a segment, “Indian Americans play politics in Chicago” broadcast nationwide over National Public Radio, Chicago-based journalist Ashok Easwaran said “there was a certain degree of embarrassment” in Illinois’s Indian community which was recently excited over the ascension to power of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom had the vigorous support of the community.

If the investigations enmeshed more members of the community, politicians could well become wary of seeking Indian American support, he said.

Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was the other speaker in the programme, said the Indian community had a greater impact in politics compared to larger minority groups like Latinos and African Americans.

“They use money rather than numbers to break into the political process,” he said, adding, “It could take more time for the Indian community to build sufficient power to get (their own) candidate elected to a major position. Their best hope in the meantime is to become key allies to major politicians.”

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