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May 18, 2004 7:06 pm

How India Funds Bush's Campaign

Asian Times May 19, 2004

How India funds Bush's campaign

By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - There is more than one reason US President George W Bush should thank Indians, whether in the United States or India, as the buildup to elections in the US slated for November gathers steam. Indians are contributing handsomely to Bush's campaign funds while, until recently, there was a band of more than 100 dedicated call-center executives who were handling Bush's fundraising and vote-seeking campaign for the Republican Party from the outsourcing hubs of Noida and Gurgaon, which adjoin the national capital Delhi.

While the Internet provides fertile ground for spoofs on Bush's job being outsourced to India, his task is certainly being made a lot easier by Indians. Until recently, HCL eServe, the business process outsourcing (BPO) arm of Shiv Nadar-promoted HCL Technologies, handled Bush's nationwide fundraising campaign over the telephone.

HCL has been very reluctant to provide information about the project, but now that it is over it is more forthcoming, though strictly off the record. According to reports, for 14 months between May 16, 2002, and July 22, 2003, HCL eServe had more than 100 agents working in seven teams soliciting financial contributions for the Republican Party. A report that appeared in the Hindustan Times this Sunday says the task was to mobilize support for President Bush and solicit political contributions ranging between US$5 and $3,000 from legions of registered Republican voters. The report further adds that the voters' database was provided by the Republican National Committee (RNC), the party's premier political organization. The contract for running the campaigns was originally awarded by RNC to Washington-based Capital Communications Group, which provides consulting services to government and private clients for cultural and political networking. For cost and efficiency gains, the company outsourced the work to HCL Technologies, which in turn sent it offshore.

Nobody from HCL BPO Services is willing to go on record to talk about the deal, but sources in the company told Asia Times Online that such a project was under way for a long time, with more than 10 million registered Republican voters contacted for pledging funds. Estimates put the extent of funds pledged due to efforts from India at more than $10 million, with the retrieval of the money being followed up by the RNC. According to the sources, the calling process involved a high degree of automation in order to limit human intervention, with voice recording and recognition technology. In this way the US respondents would not have any idea where the calls were coming from, with foreign-accented instead of Indian voices being used.

HCL eServe also ran at least seven other campaigns to gauge voter moods, including simple yes-or-no polls on such issues as abortion rights. Though HCL executives are tight-lipped, there is a possibility that there are still some projects on hand, with respondents being asked about their views on the war in Iraq.

While it seems that the fundraising contract was called off because most Republican voters had been covered, sources also say that the backlash against outsourcing in the United States as well as pressure from the anti-outsourcing lobby within the Republican Party might have also contributed to the cancellation. It may be recalled that the Indian BPO sector has seen exponential growth over the past few years, with estimates that the information-technology-enabled sector will exceed $20 billion by 2008.

Bush's India connection, however, does not end with the call centers. There's also a lot of money being contributed by Indian-Americans.

It was former US president Bill Clinton who actively sought to build bridges as well as cultivate the Indian community in the United States, recognizing their numbers - more than 2 million - as well as their immense money-power as global information-technology (IT) pioneers. The 2004 US elections are witnessing Indian-Americans reaching out to Republican Bush as a reaction to the virulent anti-outsourcing campaign being orchestrated by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Further, given the strides that Indo-US relations have taken under Bush, politically, economically and militarily, the Indian community feels much more comfortable in maintaining this continuity. Bush has himself indicated his pro-India proclivities by promising that he will visit the country next year if he wins re-election. Although India has been unhappy with some of the recent steps taken by the Bush administration, including the granting of special non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) status to Pakistan, India's relations with the United States have been by and large on the ascent.

In an interview to the Economic Times before the results of the elections in India were declared, Sharad Lakhanpal of Texas, a doctor and president of the American Association of the Physicians of Indian Origin who is one of the biggest fundraisers for Bush, said:"Indo-US relations are at an all-time high under the current administration. There has been good chemistry between President Bush and the [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee government. President Bush told me himself that [Prime Minister] Vajpayee has been a good friend and is a good man.

"The current administration has appointed several Indian-Americans to high positions. The fundraising will pay dividends for the Indian-American community and for Indo-US relations if the president wins ... re-election. Indians are increasingly recognized in the mainstream US politics," Lakhanpal added.

Although business has reacted with alarm at the Sonia Gandhi Congress-Left combination taking over from the Vajpayee dispensation, there isn't likely to be much of a rollback in the economic reforms program in India. After all, the man tipped to be finance minister, Manmohan Singh, is the original architect of India's liberalization agenda.

Though Indian-Americans have been seen as close to the Democrats, it is estimated that the community has already raised more than $500,000 for the Bush campaign. Bobby Jindal, Republican candidate for Congress, raised more than $800,000 in the first quarter ending March 31, and has $760,000 cash on hand. More than $575,000 of the contributions came from Louisiana donors. A Republican rally in that state that raised more than $1 million for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential ticket late last year had several prominent Indians in attendance.

In a speech widely quoted in India, Congressman Joe Wilson recently praised Lakhanpal and Narender Reddy, a doctor from Georgia, for raising more than $100,000 each for the president and categorized them as Bush pioneers. He said longtime Bush supporters Zach Zachariah and Raghavendra Vijayanagar from Florida each raised more than $200,000, calling them the"Bush rangers"."These leaders have rallied the Indian-American community behind Bush," Wilson said.

Dr Vijaynagar serves as chair of the Indian American Republican Council, while Mammen Zachariah, a cardiologist at Holy Cross Hospital in Florida and Zach's brother, is a big fundraiser. Zach co-chairs Bush's Florida re-election campaign and his connection to the family dates back to George Bush Sr, for whom he organized several successful fundraisers. Zachariah also raised more money for Bush's 1992 campaign than any other individual. Florida Governor Jeb Bush appointed Mammen to the Florida campaign, while Zach helped found the Indian American Policy Institute, a think-tank to promote Indian-American interests, and chairs the Florida Council on Economic Education.

While praising the Indian community, Wilson, who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said:"I am proud of the Indian-American community for their loyal support to President Bush."

It all augurs well for India if Bush is re-elected. If he is not, there will remain a bunch of call-center executives who will always be informed about the Republican way of electioneering.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.

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alagu manikandan - 2/24/2005