‘There have been concerns about religious tolerance and liberty in India, I hope the Prime Minister continues efforts to better protect the inalienable rights afforded to all people’, said the Virginia Senator after Modi’s address to Congress.
New Delhi: On Friday, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party nominee for the presidency of the United States, announced that Virginia senator Tim Kaine would be her vice-presidential pick for the ticket to get elected to the world’s ‘most powerful job’.
Kaine’s home state has an important place in the political evolution of Indian-Americans. In the 2006 senate elections, Virginia’s front-runner Republican George Allen was captured on video calling an Indian-American man ‘Macaca’. The ‘strange insult’ was perhaps one of the reasons Allen lost his slim lead in the race to Democrat Jim Webb, with the mobilisation of Indian-Americans acknowledged to be the key for this result.
With a population of over 70,000 Indian-Americans, Virginia is among the top 10 US states with largest population of American citizens with Indian heritage.
Six years later when Webb retired, state governor Kaine got elected, again defeating republican challenger Allen, in the most expensive senate race till then. Kaine had already been assiduously courting the Indian-American community with key appointments and the community also reciprocated generously.
During his governorship, his handling of the 2007 Virginia Polytechnic campus shooting was noticed, especially when he rushed back from a trade mission to Japan and India. There were two Indian-origin fatalities among the 32 who were killed by a 23-year-old senior at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.
While he was not in Capitol Hill during the years when the bill to implement the US-India nuclear agreement was pushed through, Kaine, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, has been a strong advocate of nuclear cooperation, even in the ‘plateau period’ when the Indian civil liability law seemed to have derailed it. He was, of course, a member of the Senate India caucus which was co-founded by Hillary Clinton in 2004.
In 2013, Kaine, who was one of the Obama administration’s important allies in Senate to back the Iran nuclear deal, had also wanted India to “eliminate or dramatically cut” its purchase of Iranian oil in order to put pressure on Tehran. He had suggested then the US could export LNG to India to reduce its dependence on the mid-east for its fuel security.
He visited India in the first year of Modi government in 2014 as and gushed upon his return that “this India-America moment is a wonderful one”.
The opportunities for cooperation are significant,” Kaine said in November 2014, adding that “we came back with such a powerful feeling that this India is”. He was the only US politician to be felicitated at an event with one of Obama administration’s highest profile Indian-American officials.
As a member of the India caucus and senate foreign relations panel, the Indian embassy, of course, has maintained a close working relationship with Kaine.
Kaine’s close ties with the financial and politically influential Asian Americans was very much visible. When the first super PAC was launched focusing exclusively on mobilising Asian Americans and Pacific islanders in January 2016, Tim Kaine was at the launch of the AAPI victory fund. The Asian-focus Super PAC is led by an Indian-American Shekhar Narasimhan.
After Prime Minister Modi’s address to a joint meeting of Congress in June this year, Kaine said that that the “strategic importance” of US-India relationship was growing every year, with emphasis on improving cooperation in defence issues, security in Indo-Asia Pacific region and climate change.
But, his felicitations also had a sting in its tail for the Bharatiya Janata Party:
“Some members of the Indian-American community in Virginia, many of whom are Sikh, have expressed concerns about issues of religious tolerance and liberty in India. I hope that Prime Minister Modi continues efforts to better protect the inalienable rights afforded to all people, just as we fight against expressions of religious intolerance in our own political climate,” noted Kaine.
He had also raised this issue during the hearing of senate foreign relations committee in May, just before Modi’s visit. He has also raised the issue of refusal of visas by the Indian government in March this year.