‘It Took Us A 100 Years, But We Have A Spot At The Table,’ Dr Jasmeet Bains

California District 35’s newly-elected Assemblymember is elated. “It’s an amazing feeling, a very big moment for me and for the community,” she told indica. “We have been here for 100 years and finally, our community gets a spot at the table.”

Jasmeet Bains, a medical doctor from Bakersfield, is that newly-elected Assemblymember – the first South Asian and Sikh American woman in the state legislature. The district’s mid-term election, held on November 8, took exactly two weeks to be decided. In the end, Dr Bains – a Democrat – won 60.5% of the votes to defeat her challenger, another Democrat Leticia Perez, who won earned 39.5% votes. The oath ceremony will be held on December 5 in the state capital Sacramento.

“I have mixed emotions,” Bains, who works at Bakersfield Recovery Services as its medical director, said. “While it is a proud moment, I also wonder why it took over 100 years for our community to be represented.”

She said after breaking this barrier, she will have to make ensure these barriers don’t return. “I cannot be the last.”

She credits the South Asian and Indian American community for her victory. “It is because of their work that made it possible for her to win today.”

Picture : FB

Bains says that one factor that loomed large in the community not getting adequate representation was fear. “The Sikhs mostly migrated to this place to escape persecution. There was always a fear towards a government that held us back. Growing up we were told to be professional and there was never any talk about politics,” she said.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Bains grew up in city of Delano, California. As the eldest sibling, she used to help her father Devinder Bains, who owns an automobile dealership in Bakersfield. She credited her parents for the values they instilled in her.

As an elected representative, Bains said, her top priority for the district will be to resolve the drugs problem and mitigate the impact of the economic downturn. She said workers in her district come from diverse and hard-working families trying to pursue the American dream.

“If we want a healthier community, we want to make sure we foster a healthier economic climate with safer neighborhoods and more awareness about fentanyl,” she said. “Health is our biggest issue. Access to jobs, access to healthcare, access to health insurance, that’s how we will promote a healthier community.”

Bains is clear that District 35 has a labor issue. “We definitely need to do a lot of work on the front lines so that our people have strong jobs, and at the same time, we need to ensure workers’ safety; make sure people have appropriate benefits. Farm workers, law enforcement, firefighters… these are the people that make our community safe. We need to make sure they are taken care of.”

Bains said that she got support from diverse voters – from young kids to grandparents, South Asian Hindus, Muslims, Hispanic leaders – “everyone came out and supported me. We need more, this is just the beginning.”

The doctor is close to her parents and talks about them with reverence and respect. Bains said it was her decision to run, but “like most Indian parents, when it comes to politics, there was a sense of fear about what would happen or how I will be treated.” She said it is natural for parents to worry, “but they never discouraged; they just did not know what would happen.”

She added, “My parents know I am a hard worker. They saw me grow up selling cars and now, I am a doctor and an Assemblymember-elect. They know I will give it my all… my 100%.”

Devinder Bains, Jasmeet’s father, also spoke to indica and shared his feelings of pride for his daughter. “She has made history here in the US, for India, for the Punjabi community, and for all the minorities.”

Bains Sr, who moved with his wife to the US from India in 1978, said Jasmeet being the eldest of the siblings, would always act like a leader. “She would discipline them as well. She has had those qualities from her childhood. She is a born leader,” he told indica.

He said Jasmeet was not just active in class, she also gave back to the community. “She would go and help under-served communities,” he said. “She has visited Kolkata, Panama, Africa and Mexico as part of her Global Healthcare Group. She would take a team of future doctors and train them, so that they understand issues and concerns before they get into this profession.

Devinder recalls that a few months before the primary election, Jasmeet told her parents at the dinner table, “Mom, Dad, I’d like to run for office”. I jokingly said yes, run, run but run against it. Stay away from politics because politics is a dirty game. We are not politicians and you are a physician and you are trained to go and help the community.”

“But she reminded me of my own words, ‘If you want to make a change in the world, you need to change yourself first’. That surprised me, and I realised that my daughter, this young lady, was speaking with such passion. I told her that if you want to do it, I will give you all my support.”

Devinder shared how Jasmeet earned the Latino vote by speaking to them in Spanish. “Her opponent was a Latino, but even then, she broke that language barrier and endeared herself to the community.”

Like most Indian fathers, Devinder said he and his wife are constantly worried about Jasmeet’s matrimonial prospects. “We ask her all the time, but we left her alone during to the campaign. But now that she has won, we will start asking her again,” he laughs. (Courtesy: Indica News)

US And India Need To Collaborate On A Higher Scale: AIMA Chief Shrinivas Dempo

Shrinivas Dempo is not one to mince words. The president of the All India Management Association (AIMA) – the country’s apex non-profit, non-lobbying body for management professionals with over 38,000 members – is not optimistic about the current geopolitical and economic situation, even as he is hopeful about the future.

“These are extremely difficult times,” he told indica in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the 5th US-India Conference jointly hosted by AIMA and Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, on October 11. “We are facing all sorts of crises – climate, energy, interest rates, foreign exchange. But when there are challenges there are also opportunities.”

The 1969-born Dempo, who hails from the state of Goa in western India, is the chairman of the Dempo Group of Companies – a diversified conglomerate with interests in industries such as calcined petroleum coke, shipbuilding, food processing, real estate and newspaper publishing. The company also owns a popular football club.

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘US-India Partnership: A New Paradigm in a Changed World’. In his speech, Dempo acknowledged the issues faced by the world and not just India. “We believe in the strength of people,” he said, “and together we (the US and India) can achieve.”

He told indica, “With so much uncertainty, thought leaders will have to come up more ideas for our economies to collaborate. India is one of the world’s most promising nations. Our demographic dividend, our younger population is our greatest strength.”

He added that the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the China-Taiwan geopolitical tensions give an opportunity for India and the US to collaborate on a higher scale. “India in the east and US in the west will play a major role in sorting out the issues.”

He said collaboration is better than competition, and for that to happen, he proposed a summit where industry and academia from the two countries can come together.

Dempo said the AIMA is not like other business associations, “nor are we an advocacy organization,” but added that AIMA talks about adapting better management practices. “AIMA not only addresses corporate leaders but we also manage students that are our future corporate leaders. The idea of hosting the summit is to collaborate with education institutes and work on a common theme.”

Apart from hosting the US-India Conference, the AIMA delegation visited Silicon Valley tech companies to see innovation first hand and perhaps take back some lessons for Indian industry.

The delegation has people from manufacturing, transportation and logistics sectors. “The dialog can evolve into specific business opportunities,” Dempo said. “When things are bad, it is the best time to get things at a good price.”

He said India’s current growth rate (7% annually) can sustain for at least 30 more years and “while we cannot compare with the US, we will probably make India the best destination for investment.”

He opined that the Indian government needs to pay greater attention to the tourism sector. “Tourism potential remains largely untapped, even though we have made great progress. The past need not be an indicator, but we need to focus on heritage tourism, nature tourism, ecological tourism, and much more. Infrastructure needs to be set up on a much larger scale… more hotels, better facilities.”

He said in his speech that India’s industrialization and digitization has improved leaps and bounds, but “we still have a long way to go. “Indian youth today have an unprecedented opportunity to be entrepreneurs. I know the US has traditionally done well in this area and so we need greater collaboration in this field. Prime Minister Modi is bullish on Make in India and Start-up India.”

Dempo has a personal connection with America. He is a graduate of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and serves as a trustee at the university.

In 2011, he made a $3 million gift to endow a professorship at Tepper called the Vasantrao Dempo Reflective Chair, to support teaching and research on India-relevant issues. There are two simultaneous reflective chair professors – one in the US and the other in India. Prof Sudhir Kekre was appointed the first such professor in 2017.

HM Nerurkar, chairman of TRL Krosaki Refractories Limited has one-line advice for new-age entrepreneurs – Silicon Valley is where you get cutting-edge tech and this is where you can learn the most.

Nerurkar was a keynote speaker at the 5th US-India Conference jointly organized by the All India Management Association and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, on October 11. In an exclusive interview with indica, Nerurkar said that despite several agencies lowering India’s GDP growth forecast for 2023, “It is quite pessimistic and I believe it will be around 7 percent.”

He said this is possible because India is still not an export-led economy, and India cannot suffer thanks to its domestic consumption. “I think we will still manage to retain the 7 percent GDP growth target.”

Nerurkar, who has spent more than half his professional career with the Tata group, still serves on its board. He is also an advisor to several multi-billion-dollar conglomerates such as the Adani group.

The soft-spoken Nerurkar earned a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering from the College of Engineering, Pune (CoEP). He joined Tata Steel in 1972 and rose to becoming its managing director in charge of India and South East Asia operations.

He commented on the Deloitte report that stated that India is a more challenging business destination compared to countries such as China and Vietnam. “There is some truth (in the report). Our rank is still not where it should be on ease of doing business. There are issues and the government is trying to address them.”

He added that India still lacks the infrastructure needed to become a fast-growing exporting nation. “If you improve the operational efficiency and improve the export infrastructure, we can become a bigger export house.”

He is an optimist, though. “I think India will not allow any opportunity to slip away at this juncture. For example, Adani group is trying to be number one. That kind of ambition and that kind of leadership was not something you have dreamt of 10 years back.” He said this is the right time for India to grab US investors, given the tension between China and the US.

In his short speech at the conference, Nerurkar spoke about his ideas on the metaverse. “All of us in business and in government have to ensure that the younger generation gets training or the skill development that is appropriate for the jobs that are coming up.” (IndicaNews)

‘White House Did Not Roll Out Red Carpet For Narendra Modi’

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States last month looked more like a goodwill gesture than a business trip, a number of experts told the media. Beyond the optics, they pointed out, there was much work to do to bring the two countries closer. In Washington DC where he stayed for three days, Modi maintained an uncharacteristically low profile. He met President Joe Biden, a handful of CEOs, leaders from Japan and Australia and adopted one-on-one meetings. Despite the photo-ops and the invites and long walks, some uncomfortable questions propped up their heads.

“I hope his White House visit includes honest conversations about how the Modi government can ensure India’s democracy remains a democracy for all of its people,” said US Representative Andy Levin (Democrat, Michigan). Others pointed to Biden and Harris stressing on threats to democracy globally and underlining the values of Mahatma Gandhi. In the realm of trade and economy, too, Silicon Valley voices were not exuberant in their praise of the visit. A number of them pointed out that India currently has no trade agreement with the United States of America.

In April 2018, the United States launched an eligibility review of India’s compliance with the General System of Preferences (GSP) market access criterion. In March 2019, it was decided that India no longer meets the GSP eligibility criteria and India’s GSP status was revoked. Termination of GSP benefits removed special duty treatment for $5.6 billion of exports to the US, particularly affecting India’s export-oriented sectors such as pharmaceuticals, textiles, agricultural products, and automotive parts. The United States and India continue holding discussions to address trade issues and to prepare a limited trade deal. Kanwal Rekhi, founder and managing director, Inventus Capital Partners said the sudden rise of China has put India in an awkward position.

“China is five times the size of India and has spent lavishly building its military,” Rekhi pointed out. “India is unable to match that. China and India have a 2100 mile unsettled border and China has toyed with India from time to time and uses Pakistan to pin India down. India needs time to build its economy to stand up to China. India does have nuclear capability and as such ultimate security. India needs Quad to balance China and the US needs a heftier partner than Japan to take on China. The moment is right and it is imperative that India overcome its traditional hesitancy and form a firmer partnership to maintain its independence.”

Vish Mishra, venture director at Clearstone Venture Partners, said in his view the main purpose of this visit was to build goodwill with President Joe Biden who is a bit more reserved than his predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Mishra said he was expecting more, beyond the optics such as Modi citing Harris’s India heritage and inviting her to visit India. “Given that there have been many advance visits by the US defense and commerce Secretaries as well as Mr Kerry to India, leading up to Mr Modi visit, I would surmise that the security and trade dialogs are on-going. And I did not see any agreements or MoUs being signed,” Mishra pointed out. “What I really find missing is US not appointing its new ambassador to India. Hopefully this will happen post Modi’s visit,” Mishra said.

He pointed out that Modi’s meeting with the five CEOs represented five major sectors critical to India. Adobe for technology, Qualcomm for 5G, General Atomics for energy and space, First Solar for renewal energy, and Blackstone for Capital investment.

“They all look at India favorably and are doing business there already,” Mishra said. “From my observations, Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s CEO, turned out to be the biggest champion and booster for India. He was unabashed in his praise for India, declaring that he has already invested $60 billion in India and plans to another $40 billion in the near term. Shantanu Narayen, the Adobe CEO, was equally bullish about India, citing Adobe’s investment in India for a very long time. “The White House did not roll out the red carpet for Modi and I don’t think this was an expectation on either side,” Mishra said. “More work needs to be done from both sides. However, in the meanwhile, trade and investments will continue to rise between private sectors from both countries. In addition, India will see more investments from other countries as well.”

Dinsha Mistree, fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford Law School, called Modi’s visit a promising start. “India and the US need to form a stronger relationship,” Mistree said. “On the matter of a trade agreement, there are still a multitude of issues that negotiators will have to get through. Also, both sides — and particularly leaders in the US — still have to vocalize support for an agreement. Not much will happen without that kind of buy-in. Hopefully the value of a trade deal will be recognized during Biden’s and Modi’s respective tenures.”

Mistree said that there were a number of sticky points.  “If the agreement is being made on purely economic grounds, then the US is going to want access to industries that are heavily protected in India. Consider agriculture, for example. The US wants to sell agricultural goods in India, but Modi will find it difficult to open up agriculture to foreign competition,” he said. “One just has to look at the ongoing farmer protests from the recent attempts at domestic liberalization to realize how politically problematic such a move would be to allow outside competition.”

He added: “Also, don’t forget that there are upcoming state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in 2022. And apart from opening up traditionally protected markets, India will probably be pressed to change policy on various IP matters, and will have to address labor and environmental issues. “If, on the other hand, the US recognizes a security dimension or some other strategic interest in a trade agreement with India, then we might see a deal where India gains access to US markets without having to reciprocally open its own markets.”

He said India has been pushing for a preferential trade agreement for years, but under Biden it would only come as part of a broader security arrangement, if at all. “Personally speaking, I think that the US should agree to a preferential deal with India,” Mistree said. “What often gets lost among the quid-pro-quo aspects of these negotiations is the long-term value of bringing the US and India closer together. “Stronger trade relations could help both sides recognize our shared values and interests and might provide a springboard for working together on a number of other issues. Hopefully we will see some movement, but I fear we are still far away.”

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