Event ReportsPublished on Nov 06, 2015
The Indian diaspora in the US has been instrumental in deepening and strengthening India-US relations and will continue to do so in the future, says State Senator Ellen Roberts from Colorado Legislature and Minnesota State Representative Paul Thissen.
Economic forces driving US, India closer, say senators

The Indian diaspora in the United States has been instrumental in deepening and strengthening India-US relations and will continue to do so in the future, according to State Senator Ellen Roberts from the Colorado Legislature and State Representative Paul Thissen, Minority Leader from Minnesota.

Participating in an interaction with Delhi’s strategic community at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, and giving an overview of the policy landscape in the run up to the US presidential elections in 2016, the US law makers were unanimous that economic forces were going to drive the two countries closer.

Roberts highlighted that the Indian community in Colorado has served as a critical mass in influencing policy making. The Indian community, as both leaders noted, is a politically engaged community and does not get involved in identity politics. Being an affluent community, they engage on issues that concern their daily lives and businesses.

During the course of the session, both leaders explained the role of the Indian diaspora and how the Indian community has become a vibrant part of both the American electoral process and policy making. Both leaders added that constructive dialogue on issues like the economy, immigration, gun laws and education, which have always been significant, will have an important bearing on the elections. However, in the 2016 elections, issues like climate change, the environment and women empowerment are going to dominate the discussions.

In her opening remarks, Roberts mentioned that despite efforts to highlight partisan politics in Washington, at the state legislatures Republicans and Democrats mostly work in tandem to resolve issues which impact American citizens. This is contrary to the common understanding of the partisanship prevalent in the US Congress. Representative Thissen added that the uncertainty of the economy has added to a growing sense of mistrust in politics at the federal level, owing to gridlocks that have incapacitated the government’s ability to implement policies.

Due to the excessive media coverage given to Donald Trump’s emergence as the leading GOP Republican nominee, the audience was keen to know the reasons for Trump’s popularity. Roberts explained that Trump’s candidacy is viewed more seriously outside the US. Trump’s approval ratings have certainly made him the face of the GOP. However, she stated that there are other credible Republican nominees who are willing to tackle domestic and international challenges with more realistic policy options.

Thissen felt that Trump’s soaring popularity was due to the lack of trust in Washington’s politics wherein politicians have failed to deliver on promises. He also acknowledged that Trump has been responsible for bringing up issues like immigration which would not have been healthily debated otherwise. He also mentioned that Trump’s ideas on income inequality and his decision to tax the wealthiest hedge fund managers to bridge the increasing gap in incomes have added to his popularity.

Both leaders maintained that there is broad bipartisan support for the United States’ strategic partnership with India. Thissen highlighted that in Minnesota there are 40,000 Indian Americans and the Indian diaspora has been a significant contributor to Minnesota’s high-tech economy. Out of the 50 states in the US, Minnesota is the third largest state investor in India with around $2 billion worth of investments. Additionally, Minnesota has 19 registered Fortune 500 companies which are carrying out operations and expanding in India. There is a clear recognition that the Indian community is a huge reservoir of talent. Roberts emphasized the important role and rise of the states and mentioned that in the realm of international trade and business, each state has a role to play. She explained that the federal government is completely tied down and overstretched in its responsibilities. This has enabled the states to move in an agile manner and in directions which the federal government is incapable of. The ability of state legislatures to forge close connections with American citizens on policies that directly impact citizens’ lives has consolidated their role and position.

During the question and answer session, discussions ranged from issues like the NRA (National Rifle Association) and gun laws, water scarcity, Planned Parenthood, campaign financing to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Roberts stated that Colorado shares common issues like water scarcity and water quality with India and that these issues deserve urgent attention from respective governments. She added that in Colorado, the Democrats pushed a lot of bills on gun control. However, the NRA has very strong support, especially in rural parts of the state. Thissen added that even Democrats are divided on gun control and gun rights. He said that Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, has been putting significant resources into gun control on the political side and it would be interesting to see how the issue shapes up during the 2016 elections.

On Planned Parenthood, Roberts maintained that while she supports women's health rights and believes that abortion should not be illegal, raising concerns however about the sale and use of foetal tissues for research purposes. On the issue of campaign finances, Thissen clarified that Democrats are opposed to all kinds of huge funding and creating super PACs as the ability to raise money defeats the purpose of healthy competition. He said that in Minnesota there are campaign spending limits and during Democratic Caucuses, Americans are talking about campaign financing as a salient issue for the 2016 elections as Hillary Clinton has made it the centrepiece of her campaign. The interaction with both the leaders concluded with a note on the intra-party divisions among the Democrats on issue of the TPP. Thissen stated that there are very serious policy concerns and debates on whether or not the TPP is going to impact American jobs. The meeting was chaired by Arun Mohan Sukumar, Head - Cyber Initiative, ORF, and attended by academia and media persons.

Report prepared by Sylvia Mishra, Junior Fellow, ORF Delhi

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