Monday, October 8, 2007

Indo-American Council, an Indian lobby in the United States

Last Saturday on October 6, 2007, I was invited to attend the inaugural conference of Indo-American Council (IAC) by my Indian friend, Dr. Hasan Kamil, a Silicon Valley venture investor and a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University, MIT and Berkeley. Dr. Hasan Kamil's wife, Talat, an accomplished entrepreneur in her own right, was a co-chair of the conference along with Vinod Dham who I have known as a highly accomplished individual and as a former colleague at Intel. Kamil ,Vinod and I are also charter members of TIE, the Indus entrepreneurs organization. The event was held at the Indian Cultural Center (ICC), Silicon Valley, CA. The ICC is housed in a very impressive new building with excellent facilities including a large well-equipped auditorium, classrooms, conference rooms, a fitness center, a snack bar with an ample lobby for schmoozing, politicking and deal-making . The agenda, the speakers and the turn-out was even more impressive than the venue. A lot of the work in organizing this event was done by Saima, daughter of Kamil and Talat and a senior at Stanford along with other young, rising Indians.

The first keynote was by Steve Westley, a wealthy former EBay executive and the former controller of California state with ambitions to become governor or senator. It was obvious that he has had close connections with the Indian community during his election campaigns. He talked about the success of the IIT system which has produced a large number of very successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. These IIT alumni have produced a lot of wealth and now ready to turn the financial strength into political clout for the Indo-American community. He described India as sharing the values of embracing diversity and democracy with the United States. In addition to the normal pandering, he advised the audience to follow the example of the Jewish community and their tremendous success in the United States. He compared the ICC to the JCC (Jewish Community Center) in Palo Alto and other parts of the United States. ICCs combined with IAC will serve as a vehicle for the Indian community to get involved in public service and the political process in the same way that JCCs have done by joining forces with AIPAC, the Isareli lobby. Then he went on to elaborate on the political "clout" of AIPAC in the United States and talked about how Indians can take "a leaf from AIPAC's playbook".

The next speaker was Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco. Newsom also talked about India's embrace of broad religious and ethnic diversity and spoke of Gandhi as one of his heroes. He said" Tolerating diversity is not enough. We must embrace and celebrate it" as is done in San Francisco and preached and practiced by Gandhi.

Then there was a panel discussions including elected officials of Indian origin in various cities and states of the United States. They were quite inspirational in their description of how they succeeded in various parts of the United States including the heartland such as the mid-western
states of Kansas and Missouri where very few Indians or minorities live. I heard interesting anecdotes such as one by Swati Dandekar elected to the Iowa legislature as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district. She went knocking on doors to ask for votes. As she knocked on one of the doors, a man came out and told her he does not vote for women. "Well, my opponent is also a woman." She said in a heavy Indian accent. He responded, "then I'll skip voting." Later on, he had a problem and called Dandekar and asked "Do you remember me." She did and then helped him out by solving his problem and he became a convert. She was re-elected for her seat.

I didn't stay after this session but the roster of speakers in the afternoon was very impressive as well. They had Barak Obama via video link, US Representatives Lofgren and Honda in person.

As the Indians take a leaf from the Jewish playbook, so should we as Pakistani-Americans. So far Pakistanis' focus has been on building only mosques. We should continue building mosques but we need to expand our focus to include building Pakistani-American community centers and participating in the political process as Pakistani-Americans. A modest beginning has been made by the efforts of NEDian Asghar Aboobaker to inaugurate Pakistani-American Cultural Center in Sunnyvale, CA. I think our second generation of Pakistani-Americans need to be inspired to go beyond the work done by the first generation in the public service arena. I signed up and had my daughters Amber and Michelle participate to be inspired by the attendees at this conference.

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