Despite the political divide in the country, members of the Indian-American community on both sides of the divide hope for and expect a positive outcome to the first meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Their overarching concern however, is the status of H-1B visa holders and future applicants, who they say make up a significant part of the Indian-American community and are invaluable to the American economy and brain trust in the 21st century.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, told News India Times the two leaders talks on building commercial and security ties would hopefully translate into prosperity for both countries,
“I hope they talk about how to have more foreign direct investment from India which is becoming a powerful and prosperous economy with companies looking for a larger footprint globally,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I hope my state is where they come. I want to make sure my constituency benefits from increasing ties.”
Krishnamoorthi’s District 8, has a significant population of Indian origin, and “They are looking forward to the meeting and for it to be productive,” he said.
“I also hope they address immigration issues,” Krishnamoorthi emphasized, one that welcomes the best and the brightest, alluding to the possible changes in H-1B visa applications, 70 percent of which are availed of by Indians.
“It’s very important that Modi and Trump understand each other on various strategic, economic, and immigration issues,” said Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of News India Times and recipient of India’s Padma Shri award, and advisor to the American Hindu Coalition.
“The (Indian-American) community in the U.S. is hoping the H-1B visa can continue so that this country grows and more young Indians come here,” Parikh said. “Because of the political polarization, we are worried and Mr. Modi should touch that subject as it is very important to protect Indians,” Parikh said, adding, “The Trump administration recognizes it and has to educate the American public,” alluding to some of the incidents of violence against people of Indian origin over the last few months.
“I have conservative expectations from the meeting – not too high and not too low,” said Shekhar Tiwari, a Washington, D.C.-based businessman, supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party, founder of the U.S-India Security Council and the American Hindu Coalition.
“Even though they (Modi and Trump) like each other, the outcome will be controlled by many other variables,” Tiwari contended. The President, he noted, is distracted by the investigation of Russia’s alleged intervention in the U.S. elections. But he predicted issues driving President Trump’s agenda would be ISIS, the U.S. budget deficit, immigration and jobs.
“In all of them, the only area of common interest is ISIS, but that depends on what U.S. wants and what India can contribute,” Tiwari contended. He saw a limitation on New Delhi. “Can India contribute? It has a large Muslim population and it has to be very careful how to get involved,” Tiwari said.
“India’s concern is terrorism from Pakistan, and America considers Pakistan an ally,” and their lies the dichotomy, Tiwari indicated. Similarly, India has to walk a fine line on “Some of those ‘ISIS’ countries that are very important ot Indi.”
Mahinder Tak, a leading Indian-American Democratic political activist and fundraiser in Greater Washington, D.C., however, was very upbeat about the upcoming bilateral. “I am very happy about the meeting. It is critical. President Trump must respect India as the largest democracy,” she said. “I hope Prime Minister Modi will ask about H-1B visa regulations. We need technology experts and India has such bright young people who can contribute to this economy,” Tak said.
Tak also saw Modi as a more seasoned political leader compared to Trump. “Modi understands the complexity of politics and I have a lot of respect for him. They are not similar personalities at all,” Tak contended, contrary to what analysts see as two outsiders making it to the top of their respective countries. “Modi does what he says. Trump says something and then does something else,” Tak contended. “Modi has united the country (India) in many, many ways,” she asserted.
Ohio’s only Indian-American state representative Niraj Antani, a millennial, told News India Times via a text statement that he expected a “productive and great meeting between the leaders of the two most important democracies in the world.”
“I am confident President Trump and PM Modi will strengthen the relationship between the United States and India,” Antani said.
For millennials like Deepa Sharma, 29, treasurer of the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus of the California Democratic Party, the visa issue is personal. Married to a former H-1B visa holder working with Apple, she says “Our generation wants the achievements of previous administrations to advance the India-U.S. relationship, to be continued — with all the democratic values.”
The bilateral relationship between the two democracies, she says, “impacts both economies pretty significantly – issues such as visas, immigration,” and divisive rhetoric has impacted not only Indian-Americans here, but also sent a message to India on how the U.S. receives them.
“I see a person like my husband – who ses hope and opportunity in America,” Sharma said, and wants the bilateral meeting to “deepen” the relationship.