WASHINGTON: It was a Diwali without sparkle for many Indians who attended a White House event on Wednesday to mark the festival. President Bush was a no-show, First Lady Laura Bush did not turn-up, and there was little representation from the top echelons of the administration or the Republican Party - not even in the form of Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist who attended last year's festivities.
This year's principal was Robert Blackwill, former US ambassador to India and White House pointman on Iraq, who resigned from the administration over the weekend and whose last day it was at the White House. Much as Blackwill and a few mid-level officials in the White House gamely tried to present an upbeat assessment of Indian-Americans and Indo-US relations, community leaders could barely mask their dismay at the presidential rebuff.
"Of course, we are disappointed," said Dr Sampath Shivangi, a physician and vice-chairman of the Indian-American Republican Council (IARC) who had travelled to Washington from Jackson, Mississippi for the White House event.
"Particularly after the Indian-American community backed President Bush and the Republican Party in such a big way in this election." Community leaders were also upset that Bobby Jindal, the newly-elected Indian-American Congressman from Louisiana, was absent.
According to one community leader, although Bush had not committed to attending the event, there were expectations that the First Lady would light the lamp, especially after the IARC, which initiated the event, got Florida governor Jeb Bush to speak to the White House. The intervention did not work. Community activists were told that if the President and the First Lady attended the event of one community or nationals, there would be pressure from others.
But a few hours after the Diwali event, Bush attended an Iftar dinner hosted by the White House to mark the end of Ramzaan. At least one distressed Indian-American raised this with Blackwill and was told that the Iftar event was universal and not country specific, those who attended the event said.
The purported slight however left some attendees fulminating. One activist who declined to be named said the episode once again showed the Indian-American community's weakness in not being able to parlay their financial and numerical clout into achieving simple goals. "We raised millions for the President and the GOP...and this is what we got in return," the activist, also a physician, fumed.
Others took a more composed view, pointing out that Bush had compelling reasons to be seen attending a Muslim event given what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the mood in the Islamic world.
Besides, the just-concluded elections showed that Bush had alienated Muslim-Americans from the Republican Party. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an estimated 93 per cent of Muslim-Americans voted against Bush's re-election, compared to the 70 per cent who voted for him in 2000.
Some activists accepted that Indian-Americans still lacked political clout despite exaggerated accounts on this subject in the media, particularly in India and less in the U.S. "We may be the best-educated, have the highest per-capita income etc among all immigrant communities, but we still have some distance to go in the political arena," said Shekhar Tiwari, an IARC activist who also attended the event.
Both Indian-American Republicans and Democrats attended the non-partisan White House event, Tiwari said, appreciating the fact that the event was being hosted at all.
In his remarks, Blackwill told the gathering that the administration had no plans to supply F-16s to Pakistan. He however defended the administration's decision to grant a Major Non-Nato Ally status to Pakistan because of the services it had rendered in the war on terrorism. He also assured Indian-Americans that President Bush planned to visit India during his second term.
From The Times of India