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.


Riaz Haq said...

#India Cuts Lobbying Expenses In #Washington. #Modi #Trump #Congress #Senate #State #Trade … via @ndtv

India has cut expenses toward lobbying in the US with a total payment of $120,000 to its registered lobbyist firm in the second quarter of 2017 - the first cut in nearly seven years. The disclosure has been made by BGR Government Affairs, which lobbied on behalf of India on issues relating to "bilateral US-India relations". According to the latest quarterly disclosure report filed with the US Senate, BGR has disclosed a total income of $120,000 from India toward "all lobbying related income from the client".

All lobbyist firms need to get registered in the US for undertaking any lobbying activities and file quarterly disclosures including about the payments received, specific issues for lobbying and the agencies approached by it.

During the second quarter of 2017 ended June 30, BGR lobbied on behalf of the Indian government at the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, the Department Commerce, the Department of State and the US Trade Representative.

Prior to the latest quarter, BGR's quarterly lobbying income from the Indian government stood unchanged at $180,000 since the fourth quarter of 2010. Before that, the Indian government had paid BGR $60,000 in the third quarter of 2010 and less than $5,000 in the second quarter of that year, according to the disclosure reports filed over the years.

The latest disclosure report did not cite any reason for the decline in the quarterly payment to $120,000. The highest quarterly amount so far has been recorded in the fourth quarter of 2009 when BGR was paid $200,000, as per an analysis of all disclosure reports filed by it.

While the "specific lobbying issue" disclosed by BGR for Indian government has been "bilateral US-India relations" for many quarters now, the firm also used to lobby "issues related to the civil nuclear agreement" between the US and India till 2009.

BGR began lobbying in the US on behalf of the Indian government in late 2005. In its registration disclosure filed in October 2005, BGR had said it has been mandated to "provide guidance and counsel with regard to issues impacting bilateral relations between the United States and the Republic of India".

Subsequently, in its year-end disclosure report for 2005, when BGR was paid a total of $240,000, the lobbyist disclosed that it "provided guidance and counsel with regard to issues impacting bilateral relations between the US and the Republic of India, including a potential civil nuclear agreement".

Issues on bilateral relationship and civil nuclear agreement continued to be listed as "specific lobbying issues" in the disclosure reports for the years 2006-2009, after which the disclosed lobbying area has been limited to 'bilateral US-India relationship'.

Since 2005-end when BGR began lobbying in the US on behalf of the Indian government, it has been paid a total of $8 million (approximately Rs. 50 crore at the current exchange rate).

Riaz Haq said...

India’s diaspora is bigger and more influential than any in history
Adobe, Britain and Chanel are all run by people with Indian roots

The Indian government, by contrast, has been—at least until Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) took over—filled with people whose view of the world had been at least partly shaped by an education in the West. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, studied at Cambridge. Mr Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, studied at both Oxford and Cambridge.

India’s claims to be a democratic country steeped in liberal values help its diaspora integrate more readily in the West. The diaspora then binds India to the West in turn. The most stunning example of this emerged in 2008, when America signed an agreement that, in effect, recognised India as a nuclear power, despite its never having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (along with Pakistan and Israel). Lobbying and fundraising by Indian-Americans helped push the deal through America’s Congress.

The Indian diaspora gets involved in politics back in India, too. Ahead of the 2014 general election, when Mr Modi first swept to power, one estimate suggests more than 8,000 overseas Indians from Britain and America flew to India to join his campaign. Many more used text messages and social media to turn out bjp votes from afar. They contributed unknown sums of money to the campaign.

Under Mr Modi, India’s ties to the West have been tested. In a bid to reassert its status as a non-aligned power, India has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and stocked up on cheap Russian gas and fertiliser. Government officials spew nationalist rhetoric that pleases right-wing Hindu hotheads. And liberal freedoms are under attack. In March Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party, was disqualified from parliament on a spurious defamation charge after an Indian court convicted him of criminal defamation. Meanwhile journalists are harassed and their offices raided by the authorities.

Overseas Indians help ensure that neither India nor the West gives up on the other. Mr Modi knows he cannot afford to lose their support and that forcing hyphenated Indians to pick sides is out of the question. At a time when China and its friends want to face down a world order set by its rivals, it is vital for the West to keep India on side. Despite its backsliding, India remains invaluable—much like its migrants.