Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the United States comes at a critical juncture in the history of India. Having promised 'acche din' to the nation, Prime Minister Modi would be looking at attracting investments from US businesses in his endeavour to take India on a double-digit growth path.
In an exclusive interview with Ajith Vijay Kumar of zeenews.com, Chicago-based business tycoon Shalab 'Shalli' Kumar talks about the role Indian Americans can play in the India growth story. He also touches upon other issues like the challenges faced by the Indian American community and the controversy surrounding PM Modi's much publicised reception at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Born in Punjab, Kumar is the chairman of AVG group of companies that designs and manufactures state-of-the-art electronic products.
Founder of the National Indian American Public Policy Institute, a think tank that focuses on issues concerning Indian-Americans and also the Indian Americans for Freedom, a body that works to ensure that Indian Americans have a say in national policy, Kumar is one of the most influential voices in the Indian American community.
Member of the Republican Party, Kumar chairs the Indian American Advisory Council of the House Republican Conference.
Kumar is also one of Modi's staunchest supporters in the US and had taken a delegation of three US lawmakers to Gandhinagar in 2013, a development that put pressure on the US to move ahead and embrace the man who was on his way to become India's next Prime Minister.
What are your expectations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's forthcoming visit to US?
Emotionally it will get the Indian American Community in the US energized to support India and its new regime. On a more substantive note, here are the two biggest positive outcomes I see:
a. The PM will be able to convince America Inc., the Fortune 100 CEOs one on one, for investing in and trading with India.
b. The PM shall have a good interaction with influential leaders of the Republican party, particularly Chairman Pete Sessions, Chairwoman Cathy M. Rodgers, Chairman Ed Royce and Congressman Aaron Schock to further his Nav-Bharat agenda with like-minded pro-business American leaders in the US Congress.
In your view, what is the strongest and the weakest link in the ties between India and the US?
The strongest link is the fact that the two nations are the largest democracies in the world with established democratic institutions. The weakest link used to be the vote-bank politics in both countries that leads to bad legislation in both countries that hurts trade. It is still there, but hopefully with Sh. Narendra Modi as India’s PM and the resurging Republican Party in the US will fix the problem.
Being a leading Indian American voice, are you satisfied with the preparations for the Madison Square Garden event?
One can never be satisfied, particularly me being a perfectionist. The start was quite rocky, but it has since come a long way. Still there is a significant amount of confusion in the rank and file of Indian Americans. The organizers would have been a lot better off hiring a professional management company doing this. It is still primarily a Gujarati function with a lot of under the table deals and being a Punjabi which is about 25% of all Indian American population in the US, I can tell you that there would not be much participation from the Punjabi community except for token participation. Same goes for other Indian ethnic communities. I do believe Gujaratis would show a lot of enthusiasm to welcome PM as one of their.
The system needs to be a lot more transparent so that there are minimal post PM visit problems. Currently, the way IACF runs with one man dictatorial control without any transparency, it is headed for a lot of disputes and litigation after PM visit is over.
Having built a business empire in the US, do you think Indian businesses are aligned to what is needed to be successful in America?
Indian businesses, both large and small, particularly, SMEs, have all the ingredients that are required to turn India into a manufacturing power house in competition with China. But what is needed is some assistance from either NIAPPI Business Council (NBC) and/or Government of India, to promote the capability of the Indian manufacturers and establish contacts in the American market. Current members of the recently formed NBC, by themselves, import things worth over $10 Billion dollars a year from China.
As founder of the National Indian American Public Policy Institute (NIAPPI), what your views on matters that concern the Indian American community in the US?
The number one issue is the Immigration policies of the US and the S 744 Immigration reform Bill passed by the senate, even making it worse. The other issues are everyday bread and butter issues. One out of seven Indian Americans in the US is an entrepreneur and a businessperson. The current regulatory environment in the US including Obamacare is a huge burden on small businesses. Another item of great concern is a very sluggish economy leaving almost 50% of fresh college graduates unemployed for years. Deficit spending by the US, reaching an 18 Trillion dollar debt is another major concern.
Are Indian Americans a powerful a voice in the US?
Indian Americans can be a very powerful voice in the US, as we are the richest community with highest per capita income. We are almost 50% of the total Jewish population in the US yet we have almost no power at the moment in American policy making process. NIAPPI is set out to change that by educating Indian Americans to be much more politically active. To start with, they need to register to vote and then vote. Currently only 30% of all eligible voters cast their ballots. This education is NIAPPI’s #1 agenda.
Do you support Prime Minister's 'Made in India' initiative?
I like “Made in India” as compared to “Made in China”.
How confident are you about India's growth potential?
If India can get rid of the disease of corruption, which I am confident that PM Modi would curtail dramatically by the end of his first term and mostly get rid of it by the end of his second term, nobody can stop India. Corruption in India is a bigger threat than any military threat or terror threat! Judiciary has to become a lot more active and the powers of the so called regulatory authorities such as Police, Customs and all Taxing bodies, have to be brought under control and review. Political/Election process should be made such that there would be little incentive for corruption and every disincentive for being corrupt. Same should apply to all bureaucrats.
You are known to be one of Prime Minister Modi’s staunchest supporters; is India in safe hands?