Washington Leadership Program

by Veena Merchant, Indian American Center for Political Awareness, Washington DC

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Indian American Center for Political Awareness (IACPA), a national non-profit organization, was founded in 1993 by entrepreneur and publisher Gopal Raju. It was started mainly to empower the Indian American community to participate in the political process and public policy. In 1995, IACPA started the Washington Leadership Program (WLP) to introduce Indian American college students to the political process through Congressional internships. The idea was to enable them to get a first-hand look at how the process works on the Hill.

Each year, in a highly competitive process, WLP selects college students to participate in an 8-week summer program. The students receive 6-week internship with a member of Congress or in a political office in Washington D.C. Before those 6 weeks they go through an orientation week designed to introduce them to issues of concern to India and Indian Americans and generally what to expect from the internship. The last week is reserved for evaluation of what they learned during the 6 weeks and to identify and start work on a project of their choice, which reflects the philosophy of IACPA of spreading political awareness among Indian Americans. Since 1995 WLP has placed over 155 students in approximately 62 Representatives and 14 Senators’ offices.

Following are the excerpts of the college students who participated in the Washington Leadership Program for the year 2006.

Biliyar: After being accepted to The George Washington University in the May 2004, I was ecstatic about all the wonderful opportunities I would encounter while being in Washington, DC. However, being that there is so much going on daily in the District, it is impossible to be a full-time student, working part-time, while also being very active on campus and also still enjoy all the DC has to offer.

By being accepted into this program, I will be able to work in the political realm, which will help me to finally decide whether I want to continue a path in either law or politics for my future. In addition, I will be able to enjoy DC for what it is truly worth and go to the museums and art galleries and see a show or two at the Kennedy Center. This is such a wonderful opportunity that many people do not receive the chance to have and I am honored to have the chance to be in DC for school while also being given the opportunity to stay here over the summer and continue my experiences.

Biliyar is a senior at University of California, Berkeley, majoring in political science. His first job in Berkeley was working for the local candidate for mayor and supervising the volunteers who made calls to voters. He also helped with more minor duties such as passing out fliers, both for the candidate and his allies on the City Council. His efforts bore fruit with an appointment to the Budget Review Commission. Biliyar got to see first hand how public budgeting works, and how the political circus that it depends on and how it actually operates in real life.

Gupta is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania where he is majoring in Bioengineering. At Penn, he volunteers for Asha for Education, a nonprofit, which sponsors schools for underprivileged children in India by organizing fundraising events and awareness workshops. Serving on the executive team of the Philadelphia chapter, he is also the recruitment chair for the Penn chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and is a member of the business staff of the Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s daily student newspaper. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA.

About Gupta
Lincoln S. Patel is a student at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is a junior in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in political science with a minor in economics and mathematics. He also works as a legal assistant and accountant to the two senior attorneys at Friendlander Misler, PLLC, and is involved in several student organizations or campus including Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and South Asian Society. Apart from these activities, he has joined the LSP Foundation, LLC, in which members are committed to donating time and money to charitable organizations
About Patel
Patel: ‘WLP offers Indian American students opportunity to experience legislative process from the inside’ ‘This is such a wonderful opportunity that many people do not receive’ I chose the Washington Leadership Program because this gives me the chance to further my political career while learning more about the culture I was born in. There are many internship programs at my school, UC Berkeley, but it would be interesting to get to know other Indian-Americans of my generation who share a passion for politics. I grew up in a working class neighborhood in San Diego that had a very small Indian population. For a variety of reasons, we were not able to socialize that much with the small population living there. This is a great opportunity for me to get acquainted with my culture.

We are the ethnicity with the highest median family income, we are involved in vital sectors of the economy such as technology and medicine, yet we have nearly no voice. In comparison to other generally wealthy minorities, such as Jewish-Americans, Indians donate nearly nothing to political organizations.

I believe that our political clout should be based on the economic and demographic powers we hold as a community, just as any other. Especially as the nation is pursuing a complex war on terrorism, we deserve a seat at the table.

The Washington Leadership Program offers Indian American students an exceptional opportunity to experience the legislative process from the inside while in the presence of our peers. Not only does it give us invaluable exposure but it allows us to begin to take an active role in shaping the future of Indian Americans in the United States.

Growing up right outside Washington, D.C. in suburban Virginia, the presence of the federal government is always felt. Over the years, however, I grew accustomed to it and was able to tune it out for the most part Not until I left for college in a different city did I realize how large an effect the Washington culture had on the region and the influence it has in the rest of the country and world.

While weighing summer plans, I decided that now would be a good time to really
experience Washington. The WLP offers that opportunity, with the added emphasis on the Indian American community and their relations.

For more information about IACPA,

Phone: 202.955.8338. Fax: 202.327.5483