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American Indian Congressman Ami Bera’s re-election is at risk due to father’s illegal funding

Father Babulal Bera pleads guilty to election fraud

Ami Bera. Image: flickr

The 83-year-old father of Ami Bera, the only Indian descent Congressman has pleaded guilty to illegally funding his son’s election campaigns with at least $260,000, putting at risk his re-election this year in November.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell announced Tuesday that Babulal Bera admitted to making contributions to Ami Bera’s two election campaigns fraudulently in the names of other people and over the legal limit.

Prosecutors have cleared Ami Bera of involvement in the campaign funding scam, but it makes his reelection prospects harder as he is already facing opposition in his constituency from trade unions in his own Democratic Party. He was reelected to a second term in 2014 by less than 1,500 votes after a bruising campaign. The race was the costliest House of Representatives campaign that year with the two parties together running up a tab of $21 million.

Babulal Bera and Ami Bera Image:
Babulal Bera and Ami Bera

Federal prosecutor Phillip A. Talbert told reporters on Tuesday that there was “no indication” that the Democratic Representative or his staff were involved in the illegal election financing and that they had cooperated with the prosecutors.

Ami Bera, a medical doctor who represents the from the 7th California District in the state capital area, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he had no idea that his father had illegally financed his campaign. He said that he has sent the money contributed by his father to the US government.

In 2010 Ami Bera lost his first election campaign for the House of Representative for which his father, a retired chemical engineer, contributed $240,000. The successful 2012 campaign received $40,000 from his father.

According to the Federal Election Commission, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a candidate was $2,400 in 2010 and $2,500 in 2012.

Babulal Bera was charged in the federal court for the Eastern California in Sacramento before Judge Troy L. Nunley, who is to sentence him in August. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on two charges, but is unlikely get the harsh penalty given his age. The Los Angeles Times reported that the prosecutors are recommending a prison term of upto 30 months.

Court papers said that Babulal Bera asked about 90 friends and relatives to send over 130 contributions to his son’s campaign in their own names and then he reimbursed them so that he himself will not appear to have exceeded the legal funding limits.

He is the third person of Indian descent to run afoul of the election laws in the past two years. Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza was convicted in 2014 of illegally contributing $20,000 to the unsuccessful Republican Senate campaign of his college friend, Wendy Long. Although New York federal prosecutor Preet Bharara sought a jail term, the judge gave him a $30,000 fine and eight months of community confinement that allowed him to continue working.

Sant Singh Chatwal, a hotelier, pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal contributions of $188,000 to three candidates and was fined $500,000 and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. In an unusual move, the federal prosecutor in Brooklyn at that time, Loretta Lynch, did not disclose who received Chatwal’s illegal contributions. Media reports, however, identified one of the recipients as Hillary Clinton who received them when she ran for Senate. Lynch is now the US Attorney General.

The scandal casts a shadow on Ami Bera’s reelection bid in November when he will face the Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. He is up against serious opposition within his own party because of his support for President Barack Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which trade unions consider anti-labour.

Because of trade union opposition he was unable get the endorsement of his local party unit to run for reelection and he had to get the backing of the state party convention. Unions have held protests against him in his district and vowed to defeat him as they say 12-nation TPP will lead to loss of jobs and lower wages in the US because of the cheaper imports it will allow.

Ami Bera’s 2014 victory was a nail-biter. On election night he was about 3,000 votes behind Republican Doug Ose, but as postal and other ballots were tallied over a two-week period he emerged the winner by just 1,432 votes.

According to media reports, Bera raised $3.7 million and outside organisations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $6.5 million promoting him in the 2014 election. Ose raised $3.2 million and the National Republican Congressional Committee and others contributed almost $7 million to campaign for him. (IANS)

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Indian Politics and Polity Shift to the Right and Away from Europe

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism

Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

By Dr. Richard Benkin, Chicago

  • India is world’s largest democracy
  • Indian politics is always under international coverage
  • India is witnessing political shift due to its leaders and their transformation

The great democracy was electing its national leader.  It was a fight between the party in power with a leftist tinge; and the more conservative opposition with its upstart candidate. The media was rooting openly for the leftist candidate and would stop at almost nothing, even vilifying the conservative upstart as evil, not just wrong.  The candidate on the left seemed to feel entitled, that being head of state was all in the family.  And, as you probably have guessed, that candidate lost.  You might or might not have guessed that, despite the familiarity to American voters, this was not the United States.  It was India.

will also hold a meeting there with the Indian community. Wikimedia Commons
Narendra Modi’ win in 2014 elections stunned the whole nation. Wikimedia Commons

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism.  Its candidate, then 43 year old, Rahul Gandhi, was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prime Ministers; and though India is the world’s largest democracy, not the world’s largest monarchy, it was “his turn” to take the nation’s top spot.

The similarities between the Indian Congress Party and the US Democrat Party stop, however, with how the two parties and their dynastic candidates reacted to their defeats.  While there is ample evidence that the Democrats are moving further to the left, India’s Congress, and especially its former candidate, seem to have taken the lessons of their defeat to heart.  Moreover, we too often gauge a polity’s position on the left-right spectrum by which major party dominates.  In the Indian case, however, we get a deeper understanding by examining changes in the out of power party.

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi Elected as President of Congress Amidst Celebration of Followers

The Indian National Congress Party was founded in 1885 and, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, was the principal leader of the movement that led to India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947.  It has ruled India for roughly 57.5 of its 70.5 years as a modern nation (81.6 percent of its entire existence).  Congress fashions itself left-center party with “democratic socialism” as one of the party’s guiding principles; and over the years, I have written a number of articles, criticizing what I believe to be weak Congress policies.  It has followed the lead of soft left European parties, in contrast with the Indian nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Amitabh Tripathi is a well-known Indian political commentator.  I caught up with him in New Delhi in February and asked him about how the Congress Party was reacting to its crushing 2014 defeat.

RB:  So, was the 2014 election a strong statement about traditional Indian politics?

AT:  Definitely.  Till 1991, Indian politics was at a status quo with socialist, leftist, and communist stances prevalent.  After 1991, right wing politics emerged as a political force.  Since then, Indian politics has shifted to the right; and from time to time for more than two decades, left and right engaged in direct political confrontations.  Congress led the coalition of leftists; and the BJP emerged as the leader of the right.  The BJP ruled the country for six years (1998-2004) and its policies swung to the right, including a vocal and unapologetic relationship with Israel, moving forward strategically with the United States, and exploring India’s role in the Indian Ocean to contain China and its imperialistic ambitions. When the BJP lost power to a Congress led coalition in 2004, the Indian polity again shifted left; and Congress became a complete replica of its 1960s self—a totally leftist party.

Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run). It is believed he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.

In 2014, when elections occurred, the Indian polity moved on to the right on issues from economics to culture.  Before the election, Congress did not read the undercurrent of the people and moved even further left on those issues.  This has been widely acknowledged as the reason for its crushing defeat.

RB:  So it was a real shift to the right among Indians, which sounds a lot like our own experience in 2016.  In the US, the losing Democrat party has reacted by moving further left.  Has India’s Congress tried to understand the reasons behind its defeat?

AT:  The latter statement is correct.  Immediately after losing the elections, Congress realized it was not simply an electoral defeat.  Its ideological stagnation led to the historical loss.  And it tried to rectify that and re-invent itself.

RB:  How have they done that?

AT:  I observed it on three fronts, three major decisions.  First, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the former party President and current head of the dynastic family, took an almost “voluntary” retirement.  She had become the face of hard left and anti-Hindu policies.

RB:  Sounds familiar.  Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has become the same here, but she does not seem to be going anywhere.

AT:  Second, in ten years of Congress rule, they openly flaunted themselves as very pro-Muslim, which irritated the majority Hindus in India.  But last year, in prestigious elections in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Sonia Gandhi did not address a single rally.  Plus, Congress Party Vice-President (now President) Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run).  We believe he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.  Some people might say it was an opportunistic political move, but I would say it was a well-calculated shift in the party to shed the tags of pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu.

Third, since the days of the freedom movement before independence, and during the rule of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (almost the entire period from independence to 1984); Congress followed the policy of demonizing the wealthy and glorifying the poor.  It seems, however, that Rahul Gandhi wants the population to know that he strongly favors the wealth generating middle class and capitalism; he opposes only crony capitalism.  He says the poor should aspire to become wealthy through greater opportunities and employment.

RB:  What about Rahul Gandhi himself?  Does he have a future in Indian politics?

AT:  Since 2014, we have watched his evolution from entitled politician to serious politician who understands the people’s aspirations and country’s need.  Perhaps most importantly has been his understanding of foreign policy and India’s role and responsibilities at a global level.  He has said that he’s ready to take the responsibility of the office of Prime Minister if elected, and he could make a formidable candidate.

Raul Maino
Rahul Gandhi can potentially cause a shift in Indian politics due to his transformation. Twitter

RB:  I’ve heard a lot of people talking positively about him and his growth in my time here.  I believe you also told me he has spent a lot of this time really listening to people from all classes and communities.  Thank you, Amitabh ji, it’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts, and always a pleasure to be in India.

In a larger context, we have seen a reaction against decades of leftist overreach worldwide:  Donald Trump’s election; Brexit; and a number of elections in Europe rejecting the European Union and loss of national identity (most recently in Italy).  There has been little focus on Asia perhaps because it has not been in the orbit of traditional left-right equations in the West.  India, however, has become a major player on the world stage under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  It has historical conflicts with both Pakistan and China, and can be a major bulwark against Chinese expansion westward.  India also has strengthened its alliances with both the United States and Israel while maintaining relations with Iran.  The rightward movement there is highly significant in plotting future Indian geopolitical moves.

[Richard Benkin is a human rights activist and author with a strong concentration in South Asia.  Amitabh Tripathi appears often on Indian television and in other media.  He is also a contributor to What is Moderate Islam, edited by Richard Benkin.  This interview was conducted in New Delhi on February 27, 2018, while Benkin was there as part of a recently-concluded human rights mission.]