Indo-American Delegation gains support on Capitol Hill

A seventy member delegation of Indo-Americans from the Houston area representative of the entire community spent two successful days (Feb. 27 and 28, 2001) in Washington DC. The group included students from Rice University and University of Houston in addition to established professionals and businessmen.

Houston Delegation & Rice’s Students meet with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

This maiden effort was to urge Congressional leaders, Senators and the White House on their turf for the immediate release of $100 million in humanitarian aid towards the Gujarat earthquake relief efforts. The delegation had meaningful and fruitful discussions with the House majority whip Congressman Tom DeLay (Texas – R), Congressman John Culberson (Texas – R), Congressman Nick Lampson (Texas – D), Congressman Ken Bentsen (Texas – D), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas – D), Congressman Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn, Co-chairman of the India caucus Congressman Jim McDermott (D) of Washington and the offices of House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D) and Senators Phil Gramm (R) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). The Congressional leaders expressed their support for increased assistance from the US and endorsed the delegation’s request for immediate release of additional emergency relief funds. The Houston delegation led by Sam Kannappan, Dr. Durga Agrawal, Dr. K. T. Shah and Subhash Gupta also met with White House staff and set the ball rolling for a meeting of Indo-American leaders with President Bush. Upon his return to Houston, Dr, Durga Agrawal said, “”I feel the program was a tremendous success. We have made progress on getting stronger financial commitment from the U.S.Government towards India’s disaster recovery and we have made progress by simply being heard as a SINGLE UNITED GROUP by the U.S. government ”

Houston Delegation with Ryan K. Hightower, Legislative Correspondent for Tom DeLay’s office

The rally on February 28 on the east side steps of the Capitol started with the American and Indian national anthems sung by the entire gathering.  Hundreds of Indo-Americans carrying the tricolor and the star spangled banner braved chilly winds to support the cause. Several Republican and Democrat congressmen and congresswomen addressed the rally. Chairman of the India caucus, Congressman Jim McDermott (Washington – D) discussed the 4 member congressional delegation’s visit to Gujarat and lauded the victims for staging a quick recovery from the human tragedy and returning to normal life.  He said he would urge both the Budget and Ways and Means committee to release a minimum of 100 million dollars to Gujarat earthquake victims in keeping with the status of the US as a super power. He stressed the need for the Indo-American community to keep the earthquake on the press radar. He added that it is very important that local people decide what kind of housing they need and that the decision should not be made in Washington or New Delhi. Addressing the gathering, he said, “You should talk to your area congressperson. Attend town hall meetings in groups. And MOST IMPORTANT – KEEP THE ISSUE ALIVE.”

Benjamin Gilman, the Republican chairman of the International Relations Sub-committee on South Asia announced that an additional $10 million had been committed to the earthquake relief effort by USAID. He also lauded the Indian American community, saying that it “has contributed so much for the earthquake relief and in these times of America’s prosperity and progress had not forgotten their families, friends, and compatriots in Gujarat”.

“They have acted with generosity and wisdom and we are in their debt. Together we will continue to work to rebuild this disaster area and be assured that in our International Relations Committee, I’ll be strongly supportive of any kind of assistance we can gather together to help India in this enormous crisis,” he said.

Representative Corrine Brown (Florida – D), a member of the Black caucus said, ” Although it is very cold here, we have a warm heart. India does not need our charity but our help and We WILL help. God bless India.”

Congressman Nick Lampson (Texas – D) announced that he had arranged for 15,000 tents to be shipped to Gujarat to provide shelter to the homeless, prior to the start of the monsoon season. He applauded the strength and solidarity of the Indo-American community and stressed the need for the community to demonstrate their strength in numbers. In his speech at the rally, he started by greeting the crowd with “Namaste”.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said she was proud of the Texas delegation and added, ” I am in support of you one hundred percent.” She emphasized the need to start the rehabilitation process now rather than later and assured the delegation that she would ensure that the Congress heard no number smaller than a 100 million. She stressed that in the aftermath of such a disaster the relief aid was more from people to people rather than from government to government.

Describing the rally as historic and the first of its kind held by the Indian American community, Mr. Peter Deutch said the Bush administration should release at least 600 million dollars for providing long-term assistance to the quake victims of Gujarat. He added that the World Bank and Asian
Development Bank should be fully geared to undertake this program.

Several congressional leaders stressed the need for Indo-Americans around the country to keep their leaders in Congress informed of the fact that there are people here that care deeply about the suffering caused by the earthquake. They also warned that unless the demand for aid is continued with a sense of urgency, the Gujarat issue will go off the radar and nobody in Washington will remember the devastating tragedy after a few weeks.

Rep. Jay Inslee (Washington – D), Rep. David Bonior (Michigan – D), Mr. Walter Fauntroy (former House Member and founder of the Congressional caucus), and Mr. Alsey Hastings were among several others that spoke at the rally.

Houston Delegation heading for rally in front of the Capital Building

The Houston delegation was the largest group attending this rally permitted for 300 people. About 200 people gathered to listen to the Congressional leaders before distributing earthquake related information to the offices of House Representatives and Senators. This rally effort was initiated by
Mr. M.P. Gupta a businessman from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.