Modi in US: Indian-Americans Want PM to Focus on Investment, Visas, China-Pak
As PM Modi gears up to meet US President Joe Biden, Indian-Americans weigh in on what they expect from the visit.
“I am very concerned. He [Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi] was supporting Trump in the elections, so last time he was a welcome guest. They know where he comes from, so I am really concerned,” says Republican Dr Sampat Shivangi, National President of Indian American Forum.
Prime Minister Modi will meet US President Joe Biden for the first time since the latter took oath in January. After the White House meetings, interactions with leaders of Quad and select CEOs, PM Modi will travel to New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). A long-running Republican organiser, Dr. Shivangi’s worry stems from his confidence in the Modi-Trump friendship, “I don’t want America to treat India in the same way as they did to France, their close NATO ally.”
'Matrubhoomi' and Patriotism
Indian-American Trump supporters’ 2020 canvassing revolved around patriotism for matrubhoomi — India — and was aimed at convincing desi voters that a Trump presidency will protect India from security threats it faces from China and Pakistan. Dr Shivangi hopes that India realises that the US hasn’t “said a word against Pakistan in spite of the fiasco in Afghanistan”. Hence the prominent desi Republican’s advice for PM Modi, who he refers to as a “smart, wise man” is, “When it comes to The White House, there is all the glamour, you get under pressure, you may not want to talk against the US."
I want Modiji to be firm. He should not mince words. If they pressurise India to send personnel to Afghanistan to clean up what is left behind by the US, he should gracefully say — ‘no, thank you’.Sampat Shivangi, Republican leader
The prominent physician and a leading donor to Republican campaigns was at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event in Texas in 2019, an extravaganza organised by Indian-American Trump supporters. This time, PM Modi was greeted by a few tricolour-waving desis gathered around the Joint Andrew base in Washington DC, when he flew in on September 22 for a three-day visit — no community events with pandemic restrictions in place.
'Anti-Hindu' Propaganda in US Universities
His desi supporters know that this is a ‘last-minute, focused on the Quad and UNGA’ trip; Hindu groups who are focused on “anti-Hindu propaganda in US universities” understand that the Prime Minister has to balance things. “I don’t think Modiji will speak on behalf of Hindus, especially when he is being watched in the US, India being a secular country,” says Dr. Shivangi.
“Very bluntly, I am glad he’s not!” says Shekar Narasimhan, Founder and Chairman of AAPI Victory Fund, adding, “The White House is not having large gatherings, just very small and limited gatherings.”
Narasimhan is a strong proponent of Asian representation in Biden’s administration. He hopes that the “quick in-and-out short meeting, tied to Quad” will also lead to the two countries collaborating to put “COVID in the rearview mirror”.
Speaking beyond defence and security, Narasimhan mentioned that high-level engagements are likely to move forward, “A bilateral investment treaty. There are warm feelings on both sides. Can they set up the framework to get this done? … I am giving you my hope.”
Indian-Americans are a highly educated and wealthy immigrant community. They are 7 per cent of US physicians, 10 per cent of American IT, and are well-represented in academia. Desi political organisers played a pivotal role in getting the Asian-American vote out for Biden and Harris.
‘Indiaspora’ is a network of Indian-American venture capitalists, tech entrepreneurs, physicians, and lawyers, who have contributed millions of dollars to prominent political campaigns. Its Founder and Chairman, M.R. Rangaswami, is excited that PM Modi’s visit, “focused on establishing a good rapport with Biden and Harris”, will boost investment into India. “The stock market has seen unicorns being created every month. The economic clout of India is being seen now — Zomato, Paytm, OYO. American corporates see that they should invest in India. The PM is coming with that strength,” he says.
What About ‘Abki Baar Trump Sarkaar’?
Referring to the Prime Minister’s comment in 2019 of ‘Abki Baar Trump Sarkaar’ as something “more in the heat of the elections and the political season”, Rangaswami says, “I strongly believe that this will be the golden decade for India. You can see the country beginning to take off, the tech sector really took off.” Stressing the fact that the India-US relationship should be seen based on “‘what Biden is doing and not what Modi said [in support of President Trump]”, Rangaswami said that Biden’s stance on China in terms of tariffs and more involvement with India and the Quad is similar to Trump’s, and that “India should capitalise on the opportunity to add more manufacturing as US needs a second source”.
Indian-American investors and leaders are focused on the economic aspect of the trip, but Indian citizens who live in the US are urging their Prime Minister to stand up for them at The White House. The much-coveted and exceptionally skilled work visa category, the H-1B, allows Indians to work and raise families in the US for years, but the unaddressed green card backlog affects their timeline to become permanent residents.
Neha Mahajan co-founded SIIA (Skilled Immigrants in America) to advocate for immigrant families. Living in the US since 2004, the former news anchor and radio host, now co-director of SIIA, says, “Indian government treats us like a trade item — brain and talent export to the US — instead of thinking from a human angle. We are treated as someone who none of the countries wants to deal with. Modiji, we are on Indian passports till we become US citizens. Both countries paved the way for us to get here on H-1B visas. “Yeh to wo baat hai ki shaadi kara di (it’s as if you got your child married), and then you leave the child on their own.”
Visas and Green Cards
Indian-American leaders have been cajoling the US administration to address the green card queue, and especially, focus on those on H-1B visas who travelled to India this year to attend to their ailing parents and family members but could not return to the US because the American consular services in India are severely impacted. South Asia Committee Leader and National Finance Committee member for the Democratic party, Ajay Bhutoria, who works closely with the Biden administration, says, “There are no appointments for H-1B stamping for six months! That is a problem. I did talk to the State Department.”
Bhutoria also mentions the ‘Covishield problem’ that Indian students face in the US: “Covishield will come into play on this trip. Indians have to get another vaccine when they get here because Covishield is not eligible — that will be addressed as State Department has issued 55,000 student visas.”
Protest Groups are Largely Silent
Even as many Indian-Americans drive US policies in India’s favour, other desis have protested Modi’s presence in the US during his previous visits. Except for a fringe Sikh organisation that announced protests outside the White House to “give Modi sleepless nights”, most other American-Sikh organisations that recently led massive protest rallies in the US in solidarity with Indian farmers are surprisingly quiet. There is a flier being circulated for a ‘Sacramento Kisaan Car Rally’ on September 25 (and rumours are going around of similar rallies in New York), which California-based Sikh advocacy groups claim not to be involved with, calling it a “community-led event”.
The human rights situation in India has been an international concern, enough to be included in the Biden-Harris campaign manifesto. Indian-American leaders believe that “the US will keep its perspective private and no public statements will be made”.
This will be the first time that Modi will be meeting US Vice-President Kamala Harris, and Indian-American political organisers are enthusiastic about that. Shekar Narasimhan says, “If the PM persuades the V-P to make a trip to India, it will be a huge occasion. It sounds symbolic, but getting a commitment from her would be the greatest news to come out of this trip.”
(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She tweets @SsavitaPatel.)
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