WASHINGTON, D.C.—Kapil ‘Kap’ Sharma, former senior Congressional staffer and currently vice president for Government and Public Affairs, North America for tech giant Wipro, who is arguably the most influential Indian American lobbyist in D.C., strongly believes that it’s time for the Indian American community to get over its hangover about what the U.S. can do for India, and instead aggressively quantify the contributions of Indian companies and Indian Americans that are now an integral part of the U.S. economy — from job creation to uplifting rural communities, particularly in flyover states.
Sharma, in an interaction with AAPI members during their visit to Capitol Hill on April 30 for the organization’s annual legislative conference and meetings with U.S. lawmakers, said, “One of the challenges we’ve always had with the U.S.-India relationship, going so far back in my opinion, is that it’s always been seen as a one-way relationship.”
Sharma, who also serves as a Trustee for Wipro Cares - the primary corporate social responsibility platform for Wipro employees, acknowledged, “one of the things I’ve seen in the last 20 years, working on the U.S.-India relationship, is that we don’t talk enough about what are India and the Indian American community’s contributions happening here in the United States.”
It is important, he argued, for the United States to acknowledge and to accept all of the contributions that we have made here in the United States.”
Sharma said, “If we think about the Indian tech industry alone—and I know that the Indian tech industry is seen as all about H-1B’s—as a very single-issue industry, but it is actually not.”
“I look at a company like Wipro that employs 15,000 people in the United States, 70 percent of them are Americans, locally hired, and if I look at the company like TCS (Tata Consulting Services) — it has 12,000 American employees — it is more than just hiring that they and other like Infosys, HCL are doing. It’s also about the R&D and investments in U.S. universities.”
Sharma told the AAPI audience, “It’s just like all of you—all of you as leaders in the community—who have invested in the U.S., who have endowed chairs, built community centers, but we don’t talk enough about it, we don’t acknowledge that.”
“I guess the right word is quantify and put it in a way that people can understand and appreciate those contributions,” he added.
Sharma, who worked on Capitol Hill, both in the House and the Senate, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, first as a legislative assistant to Rep. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.), helping Pallone to found the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and then later as senior counsel and legislative director to Sen. Robert Torricelli(D.-N.J.), said, “As I like to remind people, both on the Hill and the administration, is that we are investing not just in New York or San Francisco, we are doing that all across the country.”
“There are people like Dr. (Sampat) Shivangi (longtime AAPI stalwart and national president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education), who’s investing in Mississippi and doing phenomenal work in Mississippi. Also, Indian companies and Indian Americans are also in Minnesota, Iowa, Kentucky, and several other so-called flyover states.”
Sharma said, “Indian Americans have been in the forefront of investing in middle America. Think about our doctors, who have invested and built hospitals and medical centers, and the tech companies coming in and putting up so many tech centers all over the Midwest. Also companies like Mahindra putting up factories and doing stuff in Wyoming. All great things we’ve been doing and investing in places where this country needed jobs.”
But he bemoaned, “We don’t talk about it that way, we don’t think about it that way and when you think about the U.S.-India relationship, that’s where we have so much imbalance in that conversation. We as Indians, NRI’s, Indian Americans, Americans of Indian descent—however you want to call yourselves—we are far behind in that conversation.
“We are more than just doctors or engineers—we are integrated into the U.S. ecosystem in so many different ways—and it’s our duty to educate them of that and to appreciate the diversity of what we bring to the U.S.,” he said, and added that both members of Congress and the administration should be made aware of this.
Sharma said that as someone who does a lot of work in meeting with governors and state representatives, “our biggest wins are in state capitals—I see it all the time in Kentucky and all others places—but we don’t do enough in letting the local people know of all of these investments and contributions. So, quantify your impact to really show to people your contributions to the community at large.”
He pointed out that “unlike our friends in Washington, governors are very transactional—they know every cent and every dollar that you put into their local economy. They know every single person you’ve hired.”
Thus, Sharma reiterated, “Investment in state and local officials, in my opinion, is a long-term investment that we can all benefit that will ultimately and eventually strengthen the relationship.”
He said that at Wipro, “We’ve really changed our messaging tremendously over the last two years. We don’t talk about visas anymore--at least not publicly. We would rather…we want to be perceived as a positive influence on the U.S. economy.”
“So, we talk a lot about R&D, investments, employment—all the things that we are doing outside of visas—and it’s going to take a long process for us to get there to do that, but messaging is so important, having data is so important.”
Earlier, Sharma said that Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro, had recently donated $ 7 billion to his Foundation, “making it fourth largest foundation in the world and actually, makes him the greatest philanthropist outside the United States.”
“So, we have an Indian, a proud Indian, who is now regarded as one of the great philanthropists in world history.”
Sharma also said that what makes Wipro “unique as a tech company is that 67 percent of Wipro, which is publicly traded in the New York Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange, is owned by the Foundation. “So, as a company, we believe that our work is more than just doing business and more than just doing tech and tech services and providing valued enterprise, but it is also investing in communities in which we operate it.”
“And, so, we are very aggressive in the work that we do in the United States,” in this regard, he added.