South Asia | All politics is global: A tale of the Turban Cowboy, Amar Singh, Clinton Global Initiative and the Indian nukes deal

All politics is global: A tale of the Turban Cowboy, Amar Singh, Clinton Global Initiative and the Indian nukes deal

May 9, 2015 8:52 AM (UTC+8)

 

By Dinesh Sharma

What do Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Amar Singh (Indian politician) and Sant Chatwal (and his son or heir of the NYC hotel and restaurant-empire Vikram Chatwal nicknamed “Turban Cowboy”) have in common?

In the new sensational book “Clinton Cash,” Peter Schweizer suggests they may have acted in concert to advance the Indian civil nuclear deal through the U.S. Congress, while Hillary Clinton was U.S. Senator.

Clinton Cash Cover

The cast of characters is uniquely interesting, fit for a Bollywood/Hollywood crossover.

Sant Chatwal is a tall Sikh man, a former Indian military jet-pilot turned New York-based entrepreneur and political insider, who is probably one of the closest Indian-American confidants of the Clinton family and a big fundraiser for many of their political campaigns.  Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the U.S., is a family friend and was a guest of honor at Chatwal’s son’s Vikram’s wedding in 2006 in India. According to Schweizer, Bill Clinton and Turban Cowboy are like buddies.

Schweizer states, “Chatwal is a study in contrasts — a globe-trotting businessman with celebrity friends and high-level political connections, yet an earthly Punjabi who still enjoys eating sarson ka saag. Even after more than thirty years in the U.S., he remained a staunch Indian patriot and still refers to India as “my motherland.”

Hillary Clinton with Sant Chatwal and family
Hillary Clinton with Sant Chatwal and family

Chatwal is the key player who sets-up the meetings between Bill Clinton and the Indian officials, principally, Amar Singh in 2005; donations followed from other Indian industrialists. After the Bush administration signed a MOU with the then PM Manmohan Singh’s government, allowing India access to nuclear technology which generated heated debate in the U.S. Congress, Indians were concerned that the deal might be stalled.

Bill Clinton with Vikram Chatwal and family
Bill Clinton with Vikram Chatwal and family

Amar Singh was an Indian politician from the state of Utter Pradesh, one of the leaders of the Samajwadi Party, and a member of the upper house of the Indian parliament.  His party provided coalition support to the Congress Party (UPA) during the nuclear negotiations.

Schweizer states, “Heavyset, with thick glasses and thinning hair, Singh has another notable quality. His access to big money is … legendary, according to Indian press.”  During his prime, Singh used to pal around with the Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan.  Schweizer reveals that in 2008, Amar Singh made a big contribution to the CGI, somewhere between $1 to $5 million dollars, which was equal to or surpassed his own net worth.

The CGI is the brainchild of President Clinton; it annually showcases the best of the globally responsive, American public policy solutions to the problems of development, bringing together 190 heads of state, many Nobel Prize laureates, and countless leading CEOs, heads of foundations, NGOs, philanthropists, and members of the media. Unlike the UN, CGI accepts gifts and donations from private companies, including multinational organizations. As a non-profit organization, it accepts foreign donations, including big ones from governments around the world. In many ways, CGI represents the best of the public-private enterprise to improve the lives of people around the world and has gone into many uncharted territories.

From inception, CGI has been focused on the social development of girls and women. Now, Hillary Clinton, the wife of the former president, former U.S. Senator, former Secretary of State under President Obama, and one of the executives of the CGI Foundation (which beginning in 2012 has been known as the “Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation”) is leading the campaign for the first woman president of the U.S.  We are in uncharted waters, again.

In this respect, the seductive appeal of Schweizer’s narrative might sound like a script for a Bollywood/Hollywood film in search of a real plot — with millions of dollars changing hands, powerful politicians hobnobbing with celebrities, and crony capitalists raising funds and hosting parties with Bollywood song and dance in extravagant locations from Bombay Palace in midtown Manhattan to Lucknow, London, New Delhi and Washington, D.C.  The favors done in the name of CGI are seen to influence the then Senator Clinton, who apparently changed her mind to approve the Indian nukes deal, according to Schweizer.  Yet, according to Politico, she had supported the Indian nukes deal as early as 2006.

Is this the shape of the new global reality? Lobbyists for various countries and international organizations can certainly influence policies of the U.S. government by petitioning representatives.  But does this directly correlate with the swaying of votes, clearly illegal, in the U.S. House and Senate, changing policy and electoral politics by direct cash contributions? This is a much harder case to prove in the court of law and may be even in the court of public opinion.

As the author admits there is no smoking gun here. “There is nothing clearly illegal about these payments,” states Schweizer.  Yet, he has revealed how all politics is now inherently global.

Dinesh Sharma is associate research professor at Binghamton University’s Institute for Global Cultural Studies in Binghamton, N.Y. He is the editor of “The Global Obama: Crossroads of Leadership in the 21st Century,” published by Routledge Press. His previous book, “Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President,” was rated as the Top Ten Black History Book for 2012.

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