Bringing Bollywood Home

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s ‘deep personal’ connection to India and Indian-Americans may help attract film, manufacturing investments to his state during upcoming trade mission

Governor Phil Murphy announces his upcoming economic mission trip to India at a luncheon hosted by the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce in South Plainfield on July 15, 2019. (Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has possibly visited India more times than many Indian-Americans. He has experienced interaction with Indians through numerous avenues and has a deep dive into Indian culture and business,

In  the run up to his September 13-22 economic mission to India, Gov. Murphy has been meeting the Indian-American business community as well as attending various events organized by the community, including Indian Independence Day celebrations around the state.

Connections

Murphy, 61, has observed and interacted with Indians in India and Indian-Americans here, over decades and proudly talks of the various ‘lenses’ through which he has gained his deep connection. He talked to this correspondent in an exclusive interview about that.

He recalled his fellow students during his years at Wharton Business School;  then in his senior capacity for 23 years with Goldman Sachs where he spent time in Frankfurt, and in Hong Kong where India was part of his portfolio;  after that when he was an ambassador in Germany and kept in close touch with the Indian diplomatic corps; then during his first venture into politics for the gubernatorial campaign; and finally, his time at the Governor’s mansion at Drumthwacket in Princeton.

Gov. Murphy dwelt on these experiences as he plans for his trip with a trade delegation to India covering 6 cities in 7 days, touching Delhi, Agra, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Gandhinagar. For the 56th Governor of New Jersey, who will be the first ever to visit India on a trade mission, this is a momentous trip.

And, not least of all, he will be able to have his fill of authentic Indian cuisine of which he said he was “a big fan” especially, “I’m a sucker for naan and papadam.”

The day of the interview, Sunday, Aug. 11, Murphy was getting ready to attend the Edison India Day Parade, where he said he was sporting the colors of the Indian flag – “Oh – little bit of green, and white and orange,” and was excited about meeting some Bollywood stars.

“Also, we are including Bollywood in our (trade) visit,” he said. Bollywood industry entering New Jersey, the Governor said, “Sounds like a natural to me with our huge Indian, and broadly South Asian population in our state.”

“We have a tax incentive program back in place which is one of the most progressive in the country for film, and television and digital work,” conducive to building Bollywood investment in New Jersey. “There is an enormous amount of opportunity and potential for Bollywood to be bigger in New Jersey,” according to the Governor, and surely music to the ears of Indian-Americans living there.

Two of the six cities he will be visiting are very familiar to the Governor.  When he was in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, the Governor said he went to India “every quarter” in 1997, 1998, and 1999.

“My wife (Tammy Murphy) is very, very excited to go after so long,” he said. Almost all the trips in the 1990s were to Mumbai and Delhi. Now he will get to see four new cities he noted.

Murphy has kept in touch with his old contacts in India during the Goldman Sachs years, and despite the passing of years, expects to smeet some old friends during this visit, he said.

“It’s a deep personal relationship (with India and Indians in America) for me,” Murphy reminisced.

Impactful Community

In his own gubernatorial campaign, Murphy noted, he had several important positions filled by Indian-Americans. “We made it a very explicit point to actively reach out to Indian Americans.” That’s because the community is not just ‘enormous’ in size, but highly impactful in various spheres such as business, culture, government. He plans to take some of these Indian-Americans with him on his trade mission.

 

Governor Phil Murphy and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal hold press conference to announce lawsuit against the IRS while in South Orange, N.J. on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (Office of the Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

Noting changes in the Indian-American community over the years, the Governor noted it was a historical fact that most new immigrant groups “explode” in size before they achieve matching political influence and enter the corridors of power, whether it be politics, business, education, or culture.

“This (Indian-American community) is a more significant, more impactful community as time goes on,” the Governor said. “And you see it, among other things, in the ranks of elected officials. .. Now you are seeing meaningful representation not just in the large size, but in the corridors of power, not just in elected officials,” he said.

“We are proud we have America’s first Sikh Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, a good example of that — you are finally starting to have a community that can look up and see a role model,” Murphy said.

Among other Indian-Americans, New Jersey also scored its first Indian-American state Senator in Vin Gopal the same time that Gov. Murphy became Governor. Earlier, State Representative Raj Mukherji, the second Indian-American state assemblyman took office following on the footsteps of former State Rep. Upendra Chivukula,

The final list of those accompanying the Governor is still in the making, but at least one Indian-American is on it.

“I am planning to travel with the Governor to India,” New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal told Desi Talk,  “And for the record, I’m very happy that he’s going to be the first governor in the state of New Jersey’s history to travel to India. It sends a great message.”

Gopal said the trip to India is very exciting. “As you know, we continue to have one of the fastest growing South Asian and Indian-American populations anywhere in the world, here in New Jersey,” Gopal noted.

As for close friends, the governor was reluctant to name any for fear of leaving some out, saying only, “I have many close friends. I won’t single out any,” but they are from a broad spectrum of professions, business to media, elected officials.

Asked about U.S.-India relations particularly in the wake of the most recent developments in Kashmir, the Governor refused to comment on the issue, understandable for a state level elected official. Nevertheless, having been a former Ambassador, Gov. Murphy offered an answer behooving a diplomat.

“Kashmir is a region whose people have known conflict for far, far too long, and they have not seen many of the benefits of the rising tide of things like social, economic, educational, infrastructure improvements,” he said., adding, “I’m hopeful that a lasting and peaceful solution will be found. that the people themselves will be able to find a lasting peace and tolerance. And that nations, particularly India and Pakistan, can work together to find common ground in the region’s mutual interest.”

Trade Mission

Governor Phil Murphy meets with Indian business leaders at a NASSCOM meeting in New Brunswick on July 15, 2019. (Photo:Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)

The Governor’s economic mission will focus on strengthening economic ties with one of New Jersey’s largest trade and investment partners, cultivate international investment opportunities in the Garden State, and deepen cultural and educational ties between New Jersey and India, his office said in a press release earlier in July.

“As India’s role as one of our key partners continues to expand, we want to make sure we maximize the potential of our economic relationship,” Governor Murphy said in an earlier statement. “I am excited to make the case for New Jersey as a leading investment choice for Indian companies, creating lasting partnerships and good jobs for our residents. We are proud to be the home of one of America’s most deeply-rooted Indian American communities, and growing our economic partnership will only strengthen those ties.”

Governor Murphy’s activities and public events will include meetings with key government and industry leaders, including representatives of the life sciences, technology, clean energy, film and media, and manufacturing sectors, as well as company visits and announcements.

India is New Jersey’s second largest foreign direct investor and Indian-Americans represent the largest group of foreign-born residents in New Jersey. Moreover, over 50 percent of India’s foreign direct investment in the Northeast comes to New Jersey.

“As the country with the third largest GDP in terms of purchasing power, India is already a formidable player in the international economy and the country’s influence is only continuing to grow,” noted New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan, who will be accompanying the Governor.

Gov. Murphy and his delegation will focus their visit on showcasing New Jersey’s “innovation ecosystem and highlight why New Jersey is the best place for the international community to do business,” a press release from the Governor’s office said.

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