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The Kashmiri Pandit who wants to be California's governor

Last updated on: January 22, 2014 12:29 IST

'Today, the gift of a good education and the opportunity it creates are out of reach for millions of struggling Californians. That's why I'm running for governor -- to create jobs and give kids a quality education. Jobs and education. That's it. That's my platform.'

Neel Tushar Kashkari, the son of Srinagar-born and raised Kashmiri Pandit immigrants, throws his hat in the ring for California governor.

Rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa reports from Washington, DC.

Neel Tushar Kashkari, 40, once dubbed the '$700 billion man' for administering the United States Treasury's bailout of the nation's leading banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Programme, on Tuesday, January 21, formally declared his intent to run for the governorship of California, kicking off his campaign by harking to his Indian roots.

Kashkari, son of Srinagar-born and raised Kashmiri Pandit immigrants Chaman and Sheila Kashkari, during a keynote speech at the 2014 Sacramento Business Review at California State University, announced his candidacy for governor of California running as a Republican.

'My parents emigrated from India 50 years ago to pursue their higher education. My dad taught at the local college and my mom worked at the community hospital. We were a middle class family, and the middle class in America in the 1970s was pretty good,' he said.

In extempore remarks, which was essentially a clone of an op-ed he had written the same day in the Sacramento Bee newspaper, Neel Kashkari said, 'My mom and dad knew that the ticket to success was through education, so they insisted that my sister and I get a good education. And that one crucial gift has made all the difference in my life.'

'Today, the gift of a good education and the opportunity it creates are out of reach for millions of struggling Californians. That's why I'm running for governor -- to create jobs and give kids a quality education. Jobs and education. That's it. That's my platform.'

Kashkari, born and raised in Stow, a suburb of Akron, Ohio, said, 'I've spent the last year talking with Californians about the challenges facing families, communities and small businesses across the state to determine how I can help give others the same opportunities America has given my family. My conclusion -- It will take a lot of work to turn California around, but we can absolutely do this. And we must.'

After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering at the University of Illinois, he moved to California in 1998 to work as a design engineer at TRW in Redondo Beach. He later earned his master's of business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and returned to California to help Silicon Valley entrepreneurs raise capital to grow their companies and create jobs.

Kashkari was appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in 2006 by President George W Bush on the recommendation of his former boss at Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, then the US treasury secretary, and when the financial crisis erupted in 2008, Kashkari was the point man to convince lawmakers from both parties to write and pass the landmark TARP legislation to prevent widespread economic collapse.

He has countered criticism of this programme by consistently arguing that the programme he implemented not only has recouped all the money spent, but also has made a $13 billion profit for taxpayers to date.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Kashkari said, 'If we could get Republicans and Democrats to work together in Washington, DC, then I know we can get them to work together in Sacramento (the capital of California).'

'If we could break the back of the worst economic crisis our country has faced in 80 years, then I know we can break the back of the crisis that is destroying opportunity for California families and kids,' he added.

Last month, in an exclusive interview with India Abroad -- the oldest and most circulated Indian-American newsweekly owned and published by Rediff.com -- his first with a South Asian newspaper and any media outlet outside of California, Kashkari said the Republican establishment was solidly behind him when he had broached them with his gubernatorial intent.

He said he had spoken to "several Republican leaders throughout the state and throughout the country. So, whether it's President Bush -- he was one of the first people I solicited, got his advice -- to Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana, has been very helpful. Also, Jeb Bush (former the governor of Florida), has been very helpful in educational reform, and Condi (Dr Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state) out here in California."

On January 21, Kashkari also announced the formation of his finance committee, which included several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capital heavyweights like Vijay Bist, CEO and chairman, Amber India Corporation, who is a well known restaurateur, Vish Mishra, Neil Mehta and Mitesh Shah.

In the interview with India Abroad, Kashkari, who acknowledged meeting with several Indian-American entrepreneurs, especially some leading venture capitalists in Silicon Valley at meetings put together by M R Rangaswami, the founder and CEO of Indiapora, said, "The Indian community has a long history in focusing on education and on reaching those who are falling behind. And, so, I believe, it's not only my upbringing in my household -- watching my father and my parents -- but it's also my Indian heritage that I am able to express with this platform."

"And, it's Indians of all stripes -- Democrats, Republicans, Independents -- have said to me that if your platform is educating and empowering people, we are excited by that and we don't care what party you are. And, so, the feedback has been great."

Asked why Indian Americans and the broader South Asian American community should support him, besides the fact that he has a common heritage with them, Kashkari said, "Because our community -- Indians in America or South Asians in America -- have benefited so much from America."

"Most South Asians agree, most Indians agree, that we have a duty to give back to America and we have a duty to help everybody in America enjoy the same privileges and opportunities that we've had," Kashkari told me in the interview.

"So, if I run for office, do I want the Indian community and the South Asian community to support me because I am of a South Asian heritage? Absolutely. But I really want them to support me because helping those folks who've been left behind is the right thing to do and it benefits everyone."

Image: Neel Kashkari. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC