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Indian political leader tours Bonney Lake area

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By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

It is safe to say most people living in India probably couldn't find Bonney Lake on a map. There is now at least one exception.

Manjunath Bhandari, general secretary of the Pradesh Congress Committee of the Karnataka state in India, was given a guided tour of Bonney Lake Oct. 5 by Mayor Bob Young and state Rep. Dan Roach.

Bhandari stayed with Roach at his Bonney Lake residence while touring the area and meeting political and business leaders from throughout the state.

The Eisenhower Fellowship and the American Council of Young Political Leaders sponsored Bhandari's trip. The two nonprofit organizations fund fellowship exchanges between the United States and countries throughout the world.

Roach had visited India and met Bhandari on an American Council of Young Political Leaders exchange trip two years ago.

Young and Roach spent time discussing city government and explaining the history and outlook of the fast-growing city.

Basic questions about the mayor-council form of city government verses the council-manger type and the basic day-to-day actions of local government became fascinating exchanges for the leaders.

Arriving at City Hall around 9 p.m., Bhandari noted how quiet the area was.

"City Hall would be crowded with at least 1,000 people at this time of the day in India," Bhandari said. "It is open 24 hours and there are always people there."

Larger cities in India are often governed by an elected council and a mayor appointed my the council members. The state governor will appoint a commission to oversee the operations of the municipal corporation, equivalent to a city manager or administer in the United States.

Bhandari noted council members and the mayor are well known in their community and treated with a certain amount of privilege. He pointed out a mayor and a state political leader would always have a personal driver in India.

Party members are chosen from within the party structure in India according to Bhandari and are very important members of the community. As a party leader, Bhandari will travel all over India to campaign for other Congress Party candidates.

The Congress Party is the one of the strongest parties in India. The Congress Party currently leads a 12-party coalition government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The coalition was formed after the May general election.

India uses a federal form of government based on the British parliamentary system.

Bhandari, who owns a propane business in India, has been involved in Indian politics for 26 years. All the party work is without pay.

"It is considered honorary," Bhandari said. "It is a commitment to civil service to be a party member and leader. People in India are very active in politics."

During his visit to Bonney Lake, Bhandari noted how well planned, clean and neat the town appeared. Touring some of the area developments, he stated building homes in India was a much different process for those who could afford them.

"It is not possible to build homes like this that are so similar," Bhandari said. "Everyone has their own dream house they want to build. When they do build it takes one or two years."

He describes his home town of Bangalore, capital of Karnataka, as the Silicon Valley of India.

The computer and information technology industry is one of the fastest-growing in India because of low wages.

"Microsoft's largest office is in Bangalore," Bhandari said. "When you call an 800 help number you will probably be talking to someone in Bangalore."

India has undergone tumultuous and at times violent elections since gaining its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947.

According to Bhandari, one of the strongest elements of the current Indian political scene consists of young people.

"Young people are more powerful than any other group," Bhandari said. "Many of the young people work in the party, they go door-to-door. They are very active in politics."

A U.S. State Department Web site reports the median age in India in 24 and 33 percent of the nation's people are younger than 15. The median age in America is 35, according to the U. S. Census Bureau.

Besides sharing ideas and experience with political and business leaders, Bhandari met with representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Program.

Roach said the Gates Foundation will be working with Bhandari and AIDS groups in India to help combat the epidemic.

The Indian government released figures this year estimating that .8 percent of the population, or nearly 5 million people, living in India were infected with the HIV virus. India has a population of 1.05 billion and is one-third the size of the United States.

The Indian government describes the problem as an epidemic that is slowing, with more men than women infected.

Bhandari described his visit to Bonney Lake and Washington as eventful, enjoyable and educational.

He also remarked at the lack of traffic in the area compared to India.

"Our roads are always crowded," Bhandari said. "Besides cars, there are buffaloes, cows and sometimes elephants."

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherld.com.

Some facts about India from the U.S. Department of State's Web site:

€ Population: 1.05 billion; urban 27.8%.

€ Religions: Hindu 81.3%, Muslim 12%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi 2.5%.

€ Languages: Hindi, English, and 16 other official languages.

€ Government: federal republic.

€ Independence: August 15, 1947.

€ Constitution: January 26, 1950.

More information about India and its history is available at the State Department's Web site - http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3454.htm.

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