WASHINGTON: Indo-US ties will touch new heights under the Trump administration as the two countries are “natural partners” and have common interests amid China’s assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region, an Indian-American entrepreneur considered close to Vice President Mike Pence has said.
With Indian-Americans playing the role of an umbilical cord between the two counties, India and the United States have common interests in balancing the increasing economic and military influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region and fighting together the menace of terrorism in South and Central Asia, said Indiana-based Gurinder Singh Khalsa.
Founder and chairman of Sikhs Political Action Committee or SikhsPAC, Khalsa has emerged as one of the vocal leader of the Indian-American Sikhs in particular in the Midwest region.
“India and the United States are natural partners at this time. Both have an interest in balancing growing Chinese economic and military influence in Southeast Asian. Both have an interest in fighting terrorism originating in central Asian areas like Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Khalsa told PTI in an interview.
“It is to India’s long-term benefit to continue improving relations with the US. We also have many shared business priorities, particularly in IT and tech industries,” he said.
China has been assertive in the disputed South China Sea region, building artificial islands which could potentially be used for military purposes. It is also building a number of ports in South Asian countries.
The US has called for freedom of navigation to be respected amid the South China Sea actions by Beijing.
Khalsa, an accomplished businessman from Indiana, is a friend of Pence from the days the US vice president was not even elected the Governor of Indiana.
Khalsa says he wants to focus on strengthening India-US relationship and be the voice of Indian-Americans and other such ethnic communities in the US.
“(Pence) has been very outspoken about the need for more economic cooperation between India and Indiana. Prior to his selection as Vice President, he spoke to us about his intention to travel to India after the election. He wanted to be the first Indiana Governor to visit India after the election,” Khalsa said recollecting his meetings with Pence.
“To be clear, his interests are very definitely in the United States. He is an American and he will be advocating for Americans. But, I don’t think that necessarily conflicts with his desire to improve economic and political ties with India.
It simply means, he’ll be a tough, but fair negotiator,” he said sharing his impression about Pence.
Born in 1973, Khalsa moved to the US in 1996 after writing four research papers, including on boundary disputes between Pakistan and India and environmental degradation in the Himalayas due to extensive deforestation.
Prior to moving to Indiana in 2008, Khalsa spent five years in the real estate, insurance and finance sectors in California. Since 2003, he has developed a chain of businesses throughout California, Nevada and Indiana.
His first encounter with Pence was during the 2012 gubernatorial campaign, when Pence agreed for a meeting to discuss some tax issues involving Indian gas-station owners.
Pence became the first sitting governor of any state to attend the Sikh Day parade and also bestowed the highest civilian award of Indiana State on KP Singh, Khalsa said.
In 2007, a TSA agent in Buffalo, New York refused to allow Khalsa on an airplane unless he removed his turban.
“This was a clear violation of Sikh religious practice,” he argued, adding that he refused and took the issue before Congress, where he successfully lobbied for changes to the TSA headwear policy.
“Because of this effort, Sikhs are now allowed to wear their turbans through airport security,” he said.
Now that Indian-Americans have proven their great skill as entrepreneurs and businessmen, Khalsa asserts that it is time for the community to step-up and serve in public office and the military.
“I mean, look, we have a rich history as soldiers and administrators in India,” he said. At this time, Indians account for about 1 per cent of the US population and the United States is overall more diverse than it has ever been.
“This is an opportunity for both Indians and Americans. At the end of the day, Indians have done very well in the US in terms of business opportunities. Sikhs PAC is a model for ensuring Indians have the resources they need to give back through service to their country. We’re already seeing great examples of this with the US military removing restrictions on soldiers wearing the turban and beard. That is progress on which we need to build,” Khalsa said.–PTI