Senator Clinton plans to take time out of her tightly packed presidential campaign schedule next month to deliver a speech to a large and influential alumni group. The well-connected crowd, expected to number about 4,000, hails not from the Ivy League or one of America's renowned state universities, but from a school half a world away, the Indian Institute of Technology.
The unusual speaking engagement is just one sign of the growing clout of the Indian-American community and how Mrs. Clinton is harnessing it to a degree previously unknown in presidential politics.
In April, a prominent New York hotelier and restaurant owner, Sant Chatwal, announced that Indian-Americans plan to raise at least $5 million for the former first lady's presidential campaign, an impressive sum even at the overheated pace of this year's fund raising. Later this month, almost 1,000 people are expected to attend an Indian-themed $1,000-a-plate dinner for Mrs. Clinton in Manhattan. There are also plans to bring in stars from India's film industry, known as Bollywood, for another Clinton campaign event later this year.
"Indians have never raised so much money, to the best of my knowledge, and I've been living here 24 years," Mr. Chatwal told The New York Sun.
"We're all maxing out," a Manhattan philanthropist and socialite, Meera Gandhi, said.
The intense activity reflects a long-standing affinity for Mrs. Clinton on the part of many Indian-Americans, dating back to the state visit she and her husband, President Clinton, made to India in 2000.
However, the new fund-raising prowess also demonstrates how, after a generation or two of toil, another immigrant community has achieved the financial security and social confidence to venture into the American political arena.
"This Indian community has come of age, where they now understand they have to be involved in the political process," Ms. Gandhi said. "We are the new wealthy kids on the block, so to speak. We feel we should have a stake in our country's politics."
"The stars are aligned, in a way," an Indian-American political organizer in New York City, Udai Tambar, said. "The importance of money in politics is increasing over time, and at the same time you have a community, the Indian and South Asian community, that has amassed a fair amount of financial wealth."
Indian-Americans have the highest income, on average, of any racial or national origin group tracked by the Census Bureau. In 2005, median household income for "Asian Indians" in America was $73, 575, which is 59% above the national average. More than a third of Indian-American adults have an advanced degree compared with 10% of the general populace.
Overall, Indian-Americans account for less than 1% of the population, but they aspire to political influence beyond their numbers. In that respect, one often hears politically active Indians suggest that they could be the new Jews on the American political scene. Ms. Gandhi describes her well-heeled cohort as "sort of like the Jewish community was 20 or 25 years ago."
Some Indians are taking things a step further, actually seeking political advice and common cause with Jewish groups. They have sought organizing advice from the American Jewish Committee and traveled to Israel with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
"The Jewish community and the Indian community have been working very closely together," a former Agriculture Department official named last month as a national co-chairman of South Asians for Hillary, Rajen Anand, said. "A lot of Jewish congressmen and senators are friends of India. Steven Solarz was the first congressman to raise $1 million by mail from Indian-Americans."
Both groups share a concern about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. While Jews fear attacks on Israel, Indian-Americans, most of whom are Hindu, worry about attacks on India perpetrated by Islamists and about the threat of fundamentalism in Pakistan.
When Indian-Americans in Silicon Valley hosted a $200,000 fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton last month, she was pressed about why America counts Saudi Arabia as an ally, despite its record of fomenting extreme, "Wahhabi" Islam through religious schools in its country and elsewhere.
Among Indian-Americans, Mrs. Clinton has a clear edge in the early maneuvering for the White House in 2008, but she is not competing unchallenged. Senator Obama of Illinois has also made significant inroads, particularly with the younger set, which finds appeal in his multiracial background. "His consciousness resonates more with the second and third generation," a Washington attorney backing Mr. Obama, Dave Kumar, 35, said. "When he talks about the skinny kid with the funny name, he's sort of describing every Indian-American kid who grew up in this country."
Playing off a term Indians and others use for the number 100,000, South Asians for Obama has launched "One Lakh for Barack." It aims to line up a large number of small donations for Mr. Obama and gather the e-mail addresses of supporters. "It's more of a grassroots effort," Mr. Tambar said.
So far, Republican presidential candidates have not made an aggressive effort to tap into Indian-American money or support, community members said.
"A lot of people are just waiting on the sidelines," an Indian-American cardiologist who was a major fund-raiser for President Bush, Zachariah Zachariah of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said.
The head of the Indian American Republican Council, Dr. Raghavendra Vijayanagar, said the Republican Party has had "difficulty associating" with the high-achieving doctors, scientists, and business owners of the Indian community. "They're signing up with the Democratic Party, when actually they belong to the Republican Party," he said.
Modest efforts are under way among Republican-leaning Indian-Americans to raise funds for Senator McCain of Arizona and Governor Thompson of Wisconsin.
A Washington lobbyist and international trade lawyer, Sue Ghosh Stricklett, said she is trying to drum up support for Mr. McCain in part because of his leadership on immigration. "I feel legal immigrants contribute in a big way to economic expansion. As an Indian-American, I don't want to see racist outpourings on the airwaves. Without immigrants, the American economy would be crippled," she said.
Ms. Stricklett said Republicans would be foolish to dismiss the claims by Indian-Americans that they will raise $5 million for Mrs. Clinton's campaign. "I don't think it's hyperbole," the Indian-American activist said. "It could happen on the Republican side because you have more people who could write big checks. I just think they need to take the Indian community very seriously."
Another factor giving Mrs. Clinton a leg up is the presence of two Indian-American staffers at the top echelon of her campaign. Mrs. Clinton's policy director, Neera Tanden, worked as a policy adviser in the Clinton White House and later as an aide to the then chancellor of the New York City schools, Harold Levy. The traveling aide who shadows Mrs. Clinton at nearly all of her public appearances, Huma Abedin, is of Indian and Pakistani descent.
"They themselves have engaged the community and been an internal resource," an Indian-American foundation director, Nishith Acharya of Boston, said. "That's been a huge difference for Mrs. Clinton."
Mrs. Clinton's gambit to tap into the coffers of the Indian-American community is not without political risk or potential pitfalls. Immigrants and other political novices often are less attuned to campaign finance laws than longtime operatives. The scramble to tap new sources of campaign funds can also attract rogue fund-raisers and donors.
In 1996, Democratic Party officials backing Mr. Clinton's re-election aggressively sought donations from donors with Asian backgrounds. Millions were raised, but some of the money turned out to have come illegally from overseas, including companies closely connected with the Chinese government.
About two dozen people were convicted in ensuing prosecutions. Critics said some of the fund-raising events, such as one Vice President Gore attended at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles, should have raised alarm bells. One of those prosecuted was an Indian national living in California, Yogesh Gandhi. He was sentenced to a year in prison after admitting to donating $325,000 from money wired by a Japanese businessman.
In the wake of the scandal, most major campaigns and party committees adopted rules requiring that donors be American citizens. When the flap subsided, candidates began taking contributions again from green card holders, a practice permitted by federal law.
Mr. Tambar said that given the amount of money being raised this cycle, some donors are certain not to follow the rules. "That's going to happen in every community. I just hope that's more the exception than the rule," he said.
At the fund-raiser near San Jose last month, two men emerged in a hurry, explaining that they needed to catch a flight home to India. They said they had not donated but were friends of some of the hosts. "We, as Indians, are great supporters of the Clintons," the director of a Mumbai-based technology firm, Vijay Choudhary, said. "If Bill Clinton ran for president or prime minister in India, he'd win."
When Mr. Chatwal announced plans for the Indian-American dinner for Mrs. Clinton later this month, he advertised the presence of two prominent Indian business titans who do not live in America, Lakshmi Mittal and Srichand Hinduja. "They can't give money," Mr. Chatwal acknowledged in an interview last week. "It's to bring a little attraction."
Mr. Chatwal said he went too far when he told Indian reporters recently that he was putting his new $40 million Falcon business jet at the senator's disposal. "We got to stay away from that," he said.
Mr. Chatwal has a checkered business history that includes founding the Bombay Place restaurant chain and filing for personal bankruptcy in 1995. After traveling with Mr. Clinton in India, Mr. Chatwal was briefly detained there over an unpaid bank debt.
He has maintained close ties with the Clintons, who attended the wedding of one Chatwal son at Tavern on the Green in 2002. Mr. Clinton was a guest at the epic nuptials of another son in India last year. Mr. Chatwal is one of at least four Indian-Americans on a list of major funding "bundlers" released by Mrs. Clinton's campaign.
While some issues important to Indian-Americans, such as a nuclear cooperation pact with India, carry little downside for American politicians, others are more volatile. Many Indian-American technology firms are actively involved in the shifting of work from America to India, where costs are lower. In 2004, the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, got a lackluster reception from Indian-Americans in part because he regularly railed against outsourcing in campaign speeches.
Mr. Obama has referred to this practice as a form of "violence," but Mrs. Clinton has been more sanguine. "We are not against all outsourcing. We are not in favor of putting up fences," she said in 2004 when an Indian-run firm with offices in Buffalo came under fire for shipping jobs abroad. Speaking to executives in California last month, she called for more training for American workers. However, the real applause came when she expressed her support for an increase in the number of foreigners allowed to work at high-tech firms in this country. "Let's just face the fact that foreign skilled workers contribute greatly to what we have to do and being innovators," she said.
While waiting for the outcome of the presidential race, Indian-Americans are savoring smaller political victories, such as the addition in 2005 of an Indian festival, Diwali, to the list of holidays recognized by New York City. "People listening to 1010 WINS hear, ĎToday, alternate side of the street parking is suspended because of Diwali,'" Mr. Tambar said. "It's not a major policy issue, but it makes the community more visible in the landscape of the city."
Correction from June 13, 2007:
Meera Gandhi is the correct spelling of the name of the Manhattan philanthropist and socialite. The name was misspelled in a headline on page 1 of yesterday's New York Sun.