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Another Gujarat pitch in India-US narrative

May 17, 2013 18:57 IST

Voices imploring the US Congress to engage with Modi are growing louder. Aziz Haniffa reports

Sanjay Puri, founder and chief executive officer, Alliance for United States-India Business, has implored US Congress to clear the way of the obstacles that are inimical to unlocking the full potential of Indo-US trade and commerce.

The founder and chairman of the US-India Political Action Committee, who raised several thousands of dollars from the community for lawmakers, was addressing the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific’s hearing on ‘The Rebalance to Asia: Why South Asia Matters.’

“From energy security to defense cooperation to bolstering our economic ties and increasing opportunities for high-skilled workers to come to the US or go to India, there are serious obstacles facing the US as we re-rebalance to Asia.”

“However, I believe our mutual interests and shared values can get us where we need to be if the US is committed to deepening the Indo-US partnership which is one of the most defining of the 21stcentury,” Puri said, President Barack Obama’s declaration during his visit to India.

Puri said it was now time to look “beyond New Delhi outward to various dynamic states in India.”

“India has entered a period of coalition politics,” he said, “and the states are much more assertive and powerful. The US should build strong economic and cultural ties with these states since they will get away from the policy paralysis that sometimes affects New Delhi.”

He listed Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu as dynamic states that US should engage with, but his strongest pitch was for Gujarat.

“Its democratically elected Chief Minister Narendra Modi has made his state one of the most economically dynamic and has attracted a lot of investments from US companies like Ford and GM,” and spoke of  the Vibrant Gujarat Summit’s success.

However, Puri added, “The US government has boycotted him. While all of us stand for human rights and deplore any violation, the fact remains that after 10 years of investigation, India’s Supreme Court has found no evidence against Chief Minister Modi regarding the 2002 Gujarat riots, and he has been elected democratically thrice, representing more than 60 million constituents.”

“Therefore, in my opinion, it is time for the US to begin the process of engagement with CM Modi,” Puri said.

This was one of the four broad issues that Puri listed for consideration in strengthening the US-India relationship.

Educational collaboration ranked as a key element.

“Some of the top CEOs and policy leaders in India today are educated from US universities,” he added, “They take with them the knowledge, values and experiences of the United States. They take back the generosity of the American people. This automatically creates economic and cultural bridges between the two countries.”

“It is not a coincidence that Indian companies, led by US-educated CEO’s, are much more active in the US-India economic relationship.”

“Students from India form the second largest group coming to the US for higher education,” he added.

Puri also spoke of the growing demand for higher education in India: “India needs at least 500 universities and 33,000 more colleges in the next eight years. This alone is a $50 billion market. India also has a great need for vocational and technical institutes which is another $2 billion market opportunity. Where will this additional capacity come from?”

“If it comes from Indian universities partnering with universities and colleges in the states you represent, I believe we will be on our way to making the kind of difference that needs to be made.”

In this regard Puri highlighted the work AUSIB had done -- creating a platform for Indian colleges and universities to establish long-term relationships with visiting US universities, and hosting two of the largest US-India education conclaves in 2011 and 2013, attended by over 100 education and policy leaders from the US and over 1,000 from India.

The other issue that called for attention, Puri said, was STEM teacher exchange: “The United States has a tremendous shortage of STEM teachers at the K-12 level. It is especially very acute in rural, inner city and remote areas… India has a tremendous pool of science and math experts that also speak English.”

“We should consider a specialised short-term programme that qualifies trains and brings these teachers over to the US for a short duration so that we can create our own pool of STEM experts for the future.”

He also called for the US to allow exports of gas to an energy-starved India: “The US only exports gas to FTA countries and since India is not it needs approval.”

“If the US can find a way to have an economically viable and environmentally clear mechanism to export gas to India it would do three things -- increase economic opportunity in the US through exports, reduce India’s energy dependence on the Middle East and thirdly build a more strategic relationship with India given the country’s tremendous need for energy independence.”

Aziz Haniffa