- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
We’ve already taken a look at the 10 most divisive foreign-policy issues in the 2012 Republican platform, which will be publicly released shortly at the GOP convention in Tampa.
But there’s one passage that has flown under the radar so far. Take a close look at the draft platform that Politico discovered on the Republican National Committee’s website on Friday, and you’ll see that the Republican party arguably lavishes more praise on India than on any country mentioned in the document except Israel and Taiwan. The plan reads:
We welcome a stronger relationship with the world’s largest democracy, India, both economic and cultural, as well as in terms of national security. We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner. We encourage India to permit greater foreign investment and trade. We urge protection for adherents of all India’s religions. Both as Republicans and as Americans, we note with pride the contributions to this country that are being made by our fellow citizens of Indian ancestry.
The passage particularly stands out when compared with the more businesslike language employed in the GOP’s 2008 platform (the 2008 Democratic platform, for its part, praised India as a "natural strategic all[y]"):
We welcome America’s new relationship with India, including the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Accord. Our common security concerns and shared commitment to political freedom and representative government can be the foundation for an enduring partnership.
Why the change in wording? According to the Indian news portal Rediff, Gopal T.K. Krishna, an Indian-American convention delegate from the battleground state of Iowa, worked with GOP staffer Neil Bradley to craft the "unprecedented" platform language.
Krishna initially sent Bradley a 282-word proposal that included an affirmation of the "special relationship" between the two countries, a call for the "free movement of intellectuals" between India and the United States, a reflection on the recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a pledge to help India establish nuclear power plants, and an endorsement of bilateral trade, including the import of "beef, pork, corn, soybeans and wheat" from the States (rather detailed language for a statement of party principles). Bradley, Rediff explains, got back to him with a counteroffer:
Bradley then got back to Krishna saying, "I wanted to raise three potential issues. Immigration is being handled by another subcmte so I worry about including immigration specific language here. The specificity of the trade language could also give rise to each of our country specific sections getting caught up in discussions about emphasising some exports over others."
"Finally, I worry about addressing the Wisconsin shooting here and the possibility that we inadvertently do not address the other recent shootings elsewhere," he said. "I took the liberty of addressing these items while attempting to incorporate your points into style being used for the larger draft. Do you think this might work?"
Krishna then submitted three amendments to this draft which included the all-important language that "we hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner."
Not only does the passage highlight the give-and-take behind the compromise language we’ll see in the final platform this week, but it also highlights the growing importance of Indian-Americans as a political bloc. A record number of Indian-Americans competed for U.S. House seats in 2010, and Indian-American leaders such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and California Attorney General Kamala Harris will speak at the Republican and Democratic conventions, respectively. As the Times of India explains, Indian-Americans, who overwhelmingly support Barack Obama, wield more political influence than their numbers might suggest:
Assuming a higher turnout than the usual 40% or so for the general population, only around 500,000 Indian-Americans are expected to vote nationwide in the November election, and in no state or district are they in sufficiently high numbers to influence the outcome.
But what they lack in numbers they contribute in some measure in money and activism. No other ethnic group outside white, African-Americans, and Latinos – including Chinese-American and Filipino-Americans who are numerically larger groups than Indians – have as many political heavyweights.
The Rediff article touches on this very point:
Krishna had informed Bradley that "if the whole platform contains only bland language, it would be disappointing to myself and others like me, who are looking for courageous commitments, faithful friendships and specific statements from the campaign," and added, ‘We hope our trips to Tampa will not turn out to be a total waste."
Krishna may have already suffered a setback now that Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Indian-American governor, has announced that he won’t be speaking at the convention as planned so that he can focus on preparing for Tropical Storm Isaac. But if the language Krishna crafted makes it into the final platform, flying to Tampa will have been well worth the effort.