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HVK Archives: Dan Burton poses as an unlikely Cyrano de Bergerac

Dan Burton poses as an unlikely Cyrano de Bergerac - The Times of India

Ramesh Chandran ()
12 September 1997

Title: Dan Burton poses as an unlikely Cyrano de Bergerac
Author: Ramesh Chandran
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 12, 1997

When Dan Burton, the redoubtable Republican Congressman from Indiana
-best-known to South Asia watchers as India's most venomous critic and a
good friend of the minuscule but energetic Khalistan lobby -rose to
introduce his anti-India amendment last week, he began his annual ritual
with an unusual opening gambit.

He opted to portray himself as an outflanked Cyrano de Bergerac, who had
deluded himself that the lovely Roxanne was in love with him and then ran
fearlessly to the door to confront his enemies. Remarked Burton, quoting
de Bergerac, 'I do not mind if it is five or ten of my colleagues against
me, as long as we have a fair distribution of the time'.

It was a brave attempt to invest what has become quite pointless debate
with a modicum of literary and allegorical value. Leave alone exquisite
Roxannes, the image of Burton as the swashbuckling Bergerac, rapier in
hand, duelling against the thrust and parry of Pallone and Ackerman,
McDermott and Berman, was hard to conjure. Neither does Burton, who has
fine aquiline features, bear any physical resemblance to the title
character of Edmond Rostand's poetic drama who was renowned not just for
his swordsmanship but also for his large nose.

The point behind the lopsided comparison of the Indiana representative was
that the forces arrayed against him -in favour of India were formidable.
That has left Dan Burton unfazed. With a handful of fellow hard-core India-
baiters amongst them Wally Herger and Dana Rohrabacher, (both Republicans
from California), and Edolphus Towns (Democrat from Brooklyn, New York) -
all of whom have close connections with pro-Khalistan Sikhs-they have
managed to mount a clamorous campaign against India's human rights
violations, often making wildly outlandish accusations.

However, this time around, each time Burton made one of his zany
accusations-one example: the Indian government still sanctioned
discrimination against Dalits-there was a Pallone, an Ackerman or a
McDermott to offer a swift riposte explaining in scrupulously polite terms,
"why the gentleman from Indiana was wrong". As they pointed out- a dalit
intellectual now occupied the Presidency.

For his part, the Indiana gentleman was introducing his amendment No 38 to
the Foreign Operations Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations
Act, 1998 that sought to make a 25 per cent cut front the $ 56 million
annual development aid to India. Burton called attention to the stance
adopted by the US House of Representatives on human rights violators around
the world including China, Indonesia and East Timor, Bosnia, Croatia and
Serbia and Turkey.

But, what about India-one of the .'world's worst human rights abusers," he
wondered? He then proceeded to catalogue a list of casualties-none of
which were properly sourced or documented: 200,000 Christians killed in
Nagaland since 1947; 250,000 Sikhs killed between 1984 and 1992; 53,000
Muslims in Kashmir since 1988. Burton admitted that for the past 15 years
he had been coming to the well of the House calling attention to Punjab. He
warned: "Opponents will say that the recent election in Punjab of a
Sikh-dominated coalition is evidence of the new democratic process. But I
can tell my colleagues that this new government in Punjab is closely
aligned with the authoritarian Prime Minister Gujral."

Burton also evoked scarifying scenes of Hitler's Germany in present-day
India "when people are afraid to go outside at night and they worry about
the knock on the door that we remember during the horrible perils of Hitler
in World War II". Perhaps he realised somewhere along the way , that he was
way over the top even by his standards. And he acknowledged the unequal
battle: "The Indian lobby has a lot of friends in the Congress who are
going to be their spokesmen today. I presume I will be the only one
speaking for the people in Kashmir, Punjab and Nagaland but I do not mind
that. All I am asking is to send a signal to India." All this from a
Congressman who has never set foot in India-a point deftly pointed out by
Gary Ackerman who beseeched his Indiana colleague to accompany him to the
Punjab, Kashmir and other areas to attain a first- hand ground reality and
why he was so out of touch.

Whilst his opening analogy was dramatic enough, for his closure, Burton had
one final card-the torture photographer particularly gruesome one of a
mutilated body of a young Sikh allegedly tortured by the police. That
perhaps was the last straw for the many India supporters in the House that
day. An exasperated Gary Ackerman (Democrat from New York) who was
recently in India for the August 15th celebrations demanded to know how
Burton could bring one picture and condemn a whole nation for that.

He added, "That is nothing but India-bashing. Do we condemn our own
government because people put a bounty on people's heads in Asizona and
people moved in and murdered them' Is that the fault of the whole
government and that of the American people?"

Others cited the case of Rodney King being brutally beaten by the Los
Angeles police and the recent case of the unfortunate Haitian who was
sodomised with a police baton allegedly by some New York cops-and if for
such outrage, could the entire government and the country be held
responsible when these were clearly isolated instances?

Burton's zealous defence of Turkey proved a ripe target for criticism by
several Congressmen. In a recent interview to the respected "Hill"
newspaper, Burton had graciously defended Ankara's record:" When you have
military conflicts, you're bound to have unfortunate things happen. People
get killed, they're bombed and shot. These, things happen". Well then,
asked Ackerman, how can the gentleman from Indiana justify it in the case
of one country and oppose it when it comes to another?

Meanwhile the indefatigable Frank Pallone Jr, the co-Chair of the India
Caucus yet again made another of his passionate speeches in India's favour
arguing that these debates simply concentrated on one side of the issue and
the fact that terrorist organisations were operating within India's borders
posed a constant threat to peace and stability.

Argued Pallone: "Many of the militant organisations receive support, both
moral and financial, as well as arms and training from other nations,
specifically Pakistan ... This is not the type of behaviour that this House
of Representatives should be condoning."

Apart from Pallone and Ackerman, the most impassioned and articulate
defence came from Howard Berman, Jim McDermott, Doug Bereuter, Sherrod
Brown, Danny Davis and Peter Deutsch.

Last year the Burton amendment was trounced by a margin of 296 to 127.
This year the defeat for the anti-India faction was even more shattering:
342 to 82. Apart from the eloquence of the pro- India Congressmen, there
was some real hard Work done behind the scenes: the Indian
Mission-specifically its political wing, the two lobbying firms, the India
Interests Group, the non-resident Indians and of course representatives of
corporate America were all vigorously involved.

Would this spectacular defeat demoralise the resilient Dan Burton? Highly
unlikely. Next year this time, he may still be carrying on his diatribe
against "untouchables" having virtually no rights at all to survive in
India and the Khalistanis will be sending their customary blast faxes to
Indian journalists. Unless of course the 'gentleman from Indiana' can be
persuaded to visit India, travel to Kashmir and Punjab, and evaluate things
for himself. Then, perhaps, he may not find it necessary to portray himself
as an outflanked swordsman from a bygone age.


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