Indian-American lawmaker calls to institutionalize U.S.-India Strategic Partnership

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) addresses the Spring Conference hosted by the U.S.-India Friendship Council on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 27, as Ray Vickery, left, former assistant secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), look on. Bera said he will shortly unveil legislation he’s authored and co-sponsored by several other members of Congress, to institutionalize the U.S.-India strategic partnership across various sectors.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four-term U.S. Rep. Amerish ‘Ami’ Bera (D.-Calif.) — the longest-serving Indian-American U.S. lawmaker — whose influence and clout in the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee has been enhanced with the Democrats regaining the majority in the House, has said he will shortly unveil legislation he’s authored and co-sponsored by several other members of Congress, to institutionalize the U.S.-India strategic partnership across various sectors.

Bera, 53, predicted that this legislation, once enacted, would make India as much an ally of the U.S. as are its NATO partners and other close allies such as Japan and South Korea.

Speaking at the Capitol Hill 2019 Spring Conference of the U.S.-India Friendship Council last month, he said the legislation would “codify the importance of the U.S.-India partnership,” and while acknowledging that some of the aspects of the pending legislation “exists in other places, we’d like to incorporate language about the U.S.-India Enhanced Cooperation Act, which already exists, but put it into a comprehensive bill that will put India on a par with other major allies.”

Bera pointed out that necessarily anchoring this comprehensive legislation would be the growing U.S.-India defense and military partnership, which has grown to be the crown jewels of the strategic partnership between the two countries, which has led to “us increasingly recognizing India as a strategic partner.”

He said in the legislation, “We would look at how we can work with India to develop technologies like artificial intelligence, etc., so that you can get Indian companies and U.S. companies working together in a strategic fashion.

“We’d like to authorize the DOD (Department of Defense) to assist India reducing purchases from countries we may mutually view as adversaries and certainly those we view as adversaries,” Bera said, and added, “and we’d also like to assist India to increase its own capacity in self-defense.”

He also said that “we’d require the Department of Defense to conduct regular military engagements and dialogues with India, particularly in the western Indian Ocean region, where we already recognize India as having a vital role in protecting the Indian Ocean and keeping those lanes of commerce open.

“We see that partnership as critical and we already conduct major naval and defense exercises,” with India, he said.

Bera said that this comprehensive legislation would also push for the State Department to “advance India’s membership into APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) forum because we believe this is an important vehicle by which India can continue to seek its free and open trade across Asia.

“We also think it’s important to authorize and work with India in partnership to help advance and promote aid in third nations, and the countries in Africa is an example,” he said.

Bera pointed out that “India has much deeper and older relationships with Africa, and our understanding is that we can work together with USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and other partners with India and go into those third developing countries — that could be a critical partnership for both countries.”

He also said another vital sector that he would like to see institutionalized would be in the education sector because already, each year, we know that hundreds of thousand of Indian students come to the U.S. to study.”

Bera said by the same token, “It will be in our interest to foster this partnership — where more American students go and study in India.

“And, again, these planks would continue to move the U.S.-India partnership forward together,” and help institutionalize it, he added.

Bera said that “as we introduce this legislation, we would be looking to the U.S.-India Friendship Council and other organizations to help work with us as we move this legislation forward.

“We still believe that the U.S.-India relationship can be that defining relationship in the 21st century and certainly a strategic relationship,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), in this remarks, lauded Swadesh Chatterjee, the founder and chair of the Friendship Council for “your incredible guidance and mentorship over the years.

“You have been a trail-blazer for the Indian-American community, when it was hard to get appointments with (Congressional) staff assistants, let alone getting members of Congress elected,” he said, turning to Chatterjee.

Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, continued that “that kind of dedication is something that I’ve never forgotten in terms of the commitment that people like Swadesh have shown and we’ve grown on the sacrifices that people like you’ve made.”

He recalled that it “took people like Swadesh and Ramesh Kapur, who were willing to speak out of turn, who were willing to chase down members of Congress down the hallways, just trying to get a word in. They refused to be passive observers of democracy, but were willing to get into people’s faces in Congress to move forward.”

Khanna continued, “I’ve always believed that their generation and the sacrifices that they’ve made for this country and the community, will always be far more than my generation.”

He said that thanks to this older generation, “Our generation was handed a lot of good opportunities in life — good families, good education, and it’s never lost on me how many people have paved the way for our being able to be in public service.”

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D.-Ill.), speaking at the evening reception, pointed out to the scores of political and community activists who were on hand spanning three generations, that it was the U.S.-India Friendship Council led by Chatterjee and a handful of other community leaders who were catalytic in lobbying the Congress to pass the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008, which was a transformational moment in the history of the relationship between Washington and New Delhi.

He said that “really showed the Indian-American community coming of age in terms of building those bridges between the U.S. and India that will last.”

Krishnamoorthi also made a strong pitch for more members of the Indian-American community to run for public office, including the U.S. Congress and help swell the ‘Samosa Caucus,’ of four Indian- American lawmakers in the House.

“If you dream it, you can do it,” he said, and added, “The fact that a guy like me with 31 letters in his name that 99 percent of my constituents cannot pronounce is testament to the greatness of this country and the fact that anyone can do anything they want to do in this country.”

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