WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) stormed out of the India Day Parade in Queens, N.Y., Aug. 11 after confronted by a community member about his reaction in the wake of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to revoke Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that provides for special status to Kashmir.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Suozzi insisted that “Kashmir must become a major focus of the administration.” He wrote that he was gravely concerned “over the current situation in Kashmir and Jammu - a potential flashpoint for conflict between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan, who have a long history of tension and war.”
Suozzi, who was the guest of honor at the parade, represents the 3rd Congressional District in New York that includes parts of Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties, all of which comprise of significant Indian, Pakistani and South Asian-American populations
At the Aug. 11 parade held at a park on 136th street in Queens, Rajender Dichpally, national secretary-general of the Indian Overseas Congress (IOC) confronted Suozzi and demanded he apologize publicly to the nearly 10,000 people in attendance and withdraw his letter to Pompeo.
After an angry back and forth with Dichpally, Suozzi, who refused to acquiesce to Dichpally’s demand, stormed off with one of his aides in tow.
Dichpally told India Abroad that “this guy is playing a double game very clearly. He has no reason to write that letter when we have supported him so strongly. Apparently, the Pakistani consulate has secretly organized an event for him in two weeks.”
Suozzi, who was among several U.S. lawmakers who met with Prime Minister Khan July 23, during the latter’s visit to the U.S., and summit with President Donald Trump at the White House, tweeted on July 24, about his meeting, saying, “Pakistan and America have a long-standing relationship. I represent a large population of Pakistani-Americans and have developed many friendships in the community over the years.
“Our two countries have had many ups and downs. We must work together to repair our relationship and to achieve our common goal of peace in the region,” he added.
Dichpally said that at the India Day parade, “After he (Suozzi) made a short speech, and he was reading out the commendations for the honorees, I walked up to the podium and told him, ‘Tom, you have to apologize to the entire community, right now.”
“Then he sent his secretary down from the dais to calm me down and I said, ‘I am not dealing with you and said (to Suozzi), ‘You have to apologize — there is no way out for you.”
Dichpally said that Suozzi had then told him that “I will address this issue in two days, but I told him, ‘No way, you have to give an unconditional apology.’”
“Then we walked down(from the dais) and angrily told me, ‘Can I have a word with you in private, and I asked him one question. ‘Did you write that letter in private or did you write it in public?’”
Dichpally recalled, “Then he started looking at me very angrily, but I repeated that ‘that’s a public letter and you better apologize to the community publicly, right now.’ Then he got really angry and he walked off.”
However, he said, besides him, nobody else, including the organizers on the dais, who had invited him to be the guest of honor had confronted Suozzi during the entire time he was there at the event, and had greeted and welcome him warmly and escorted him to the dais, but not broached the subject of his letter to Pompeo.
According to Dichpally, “They were unhappy with him, but because he’s such a powerful lawmaker and sits on two important committees, they were a little bit hesitant,” to bring up the issue of his letter.
Asked why as a staunch Congress Party supporter and as the national secretary-general of IOC, he had decided to take it upon himself to confront Suozzi for criticizing the decision of the BJP government, Dichpally said, “We differ from the BJP on the way they have removed Article 370, without due consensus and due communication, by suddenly getting the bill to the order of the House 15 minutes before the parliament was convened.
“That’s not the way you bring about consensus on a matter of such huge importance,” he said.
But, Dichpally argued, that he took exception to the way Suozzi had fired off the letter to Pompeo, “without as much as consulting with the Indian-American community, who had strongly supported him and contributed to his campaign.”
He warned that “if he doesn’t give an unconditional apology, we are going to have mass protests against him and we are going to ensure that the community is informed about his treachery, and we are going to ensure that he’s going to be defeated next time — 100 percent. No question about that.”
Dichpally reiterated that there was no denying that the Pakistani-American community and the Pakistani government lobbyists had got to him and convinced him to write this stinging letter calling on the Trump administration to interfere in the Kashmir issue.
“This should be a lesson to future lawmakers, not to play double games with the Indian community and India,” he said.