WHEN IT COMES TO INVESTMENTS, INDIAN AMERICANS, LIKE ANYBODY ELSE, WILL LOOK AT WHAT’S THE RISK, WHAT’S THE RETURN, IS IT WORTH IT? THEY MAY BE MORE PATIENT, THEY MAY HAVE A DIFFERENT VIEW OF THE RISK, BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, I DON’T SEE MUCH DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOW THEY WOULD LOOK AT INVESTING OR MAKING BUSINESS DECISIONS… BUT THEY MAY HAVE SOME DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SOME ISSUES.
As someone who has covered politics and diplomacy and DC for the past hree decades, it is unprecedented to
find Indian Americans in the administration
driving policy with a point person like you at
Commerce, Nisha Desai Biswal (Assistant
Secretary of State for South and Central
Asian Affairs) at State, Rich Verma, the first-ever Indian American US Ambassador to
India, and several other Indian Americans at
senior level positions at the various agencies
How much of cohesion is there among all of
you and has this been useful — being Indian
American — in terms of fostering the US-India relationship?
I guess, besides bringing the US perspective, I presume you’ll bring to the table a
familiarity with the Indian perspective too?
Or, am I reading too much into it?
There are two levels of answering that
question. One is, that while Indian
Americans form 1 percent of the population,
they are very significant and not a rounding
off number anymore. They are also represented very strongly in corporate leadership
if you look at the Fortune 500 companies, if
you look at universities and academia — a
number of presidents and deans now — and
in all walks of life. So, in a way, it’s natural to
find similar representation happening in the
US government. So, it’s almost appropriate
and natural that this happens.
Also… as a community, it is important that
the Indian-American community step up
and frankly do more of this, not just at the
federal level, but at the state level, at the local
level. I am a very big proponent of that,
because this country has given me a lot, and
I’d like to give back.
In terms of whether it helps whether an
Indian American is working on India, there
are some places where it is quite easy
because the commonalities of language are
there — not always because of India’s 29 lan-
guages. I don’t necessarily speak the lan-
guage of the Prime Minister, but Nisha does
by the way. So, there are some advantages.
Also, there are some relationships, connections you have from your schooldays. In my
case, I was 26 years old when I left India and
the people I grew up with are in senior positions around the country. So, there are
advantages of access that can often be helpful. That’s an interesting aspect that I find —
I can call somebody up whom I’ve known for
How significant in tangible terms is the
role of the Indian-American community in
advancing the US-India commerce and trade
relationship, considering the growing number of top guns in corporate America are
Indian Americans may have a bit more of
an understanding of the difficulties of dealing with India. As I mentioned, Amartya
Sen’s quote, sometimes, we can be flummoxed by things, but since they been there,
they know that things can be done in certain
(ways)… you need more patience. So, there
may be a little more sensitivity from them in
how to deal with India and be successful.
That’s a big asset that they have, and that’s
helped a number of companies.
In the early days, many US companies
went to India because there was an Indian-American executive who said, I know how to
establish an operation. That really helped
because they had figured out the hidden curriculum on how to make things happen.
But, when it comes to investments, Indian
Americans, like anybody else, will look at
what’s the risk, what’s the return, is it worth
it? They may be more patient, they may have
a different view of the risk, but at the end of
the day, I don’t see much difference between
how they would look at investing or making
business decisions. So, I think it’s the same,
but they may have some deeper understand-
ing of some issues.
You’ve been very passionate about public
service. In your recent keynote address to the
Kerala Association of America, the thrust of
your address was that.
Do you believe that Indian Americans who
are doing very well and have established
themselves in all walks of professional fields,
entrepreneurship and business, should perhaps devote a little time to public service at a
given time of their lives?
Let me say, many Indian Americans have
not thought about public service. Frankly, I
had not thought about public service, certainly on the West Coast where it may be
quite different than on the East Coast. But, I
really feel that now that I am here and in
touch with my friends there (in Silicon
Valley), I really expect more people to come
out and do this.
It’s also a great personal growth to be
doing public service. It’s wanting to serve,
but it’s (also about) getting more because of
the opportunity and growth of the experience you get. It’s extremely rewarding. I recommend it highly.
I just think not enough people have
thought about it — certainly where I come
from in Silicon Valley, people rarely thought
about it. Frankly, now that I’m here, I think
about why don’t more people go to
Sacramento from Silicon Valley — it’s right
there, close enough. More people should.
I hope that you’ll see more people from
Silicon Valley here and while I am here, I’m
also trying to build greater bridges with
‘Many Indian Americans have not thought about public service’
A video grab of Arun M Kumar and Nisha Desai Biswal at a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
much of oomph did it add to the relationship?
It added a lot of oomph because on the commercial aspect,
all the various commercial and economic agencies of the US
sitting together, focusing on India — that was a big message
that was delivered. That we are all here, working together,
not just agency by agency but together prioritizing the relationship.
The two visits to India by the President, which is unprecedented for a US president during his tenure; the multiple visits by Secretary Pritzker and other senior officials like
Secretary Kerry; the visits by the Indian Prime Minister to the
US — in the space of just two to three years — obviously have
been a major force in pushing not just the relationship forward, but getting all the underlings to take note that this relationship is important at the highest levels.
You are absolutely right. Besides these high-level interac-
tions, the amount of interactions has led to officials of both
sides getting to know each other, has led to their understand-
ing each other, and people being at a place where they can
talk frankly with each other — all these are really, really
important for diplomacy.
Just imagine, (Indian) Commerce Minister (Nirmala)
Sitharaman was here three times in 30 days.
As an erstwhile Silicon Valley stalwart, how significant was
Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley, since you were there up close and
I thought it was interesting because he recognized the
importance of Silicon Valley to the world, in terms of innovation and how important innovation was for India and for
many of his priorities for Digital India and for many of the
technologies (that) come from Silicon Valley — clean energy
solutions, clean energy storage solutions.
That was important because he could hear from the experts
— policy experts — as well as actual CEOs as to what their
technologies could do, whether it was clean energy or the
digital space. I found that he was actually taking notes, and
when he spoke and responded, the response was very
thoughtful and on point.