California state Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-27, led a delegation to India in December with the aim of holding trade talks along the five-city trip.
Kalra’s office Feb. 26 released some details from the two-week trip, which began Dec. 4, noting that subnational engagement is promising.
“The trip was a useful crash course on Indian politics for our legislators. In every meeting, they learned about the nuances and complexities of governance in India, particularly the role – and power – of states,” the Indian American assemblyman’s office told India-West in an email.
“Some of the most pressing challenges, such as water management, clean energy development, agricultural best practices, and sustainable urban planning – issues that California cares much about – are often tackled at the state level in India. These issues will give us good openings to establish initial dialogue at the subnational level in 2019.”
Several of the meetings were specifically designed to explore effective ways to establish subnational engagement – particularly the U.S. India Business Council convening in Mumbai, where U.S. Consul General in Mumbai Edgard D. Kagan spoke, as well as the meeting with Center for Strategic & International Studies' Kartikeya Singh.
Singh provided useful data points and research materials highlighting the power and influence of different Indian states, with information noting which ones could be the most natural partner for California based on issue area interests, according to Kalra’s office, adding that the delegation will use CSIS as a resource “as we build out a smart, targeted engagement strategy.”
Additionally, the e-mail noted that in order to have success with global engagement, partnerships are key.
Without partnerships, it said, subnational discussions are often reduced to one-off meetings, trips, and ceremonial pictures with little follow-up.
“This trip to India obviously highlighted for us the potential for good partnerships, as there are clear policy priority alignment on many fronts,” it noted. “But to do so successfully we will consider forming a partnership with a think tank to help us host annual dialogues – to focus on one or two issues – so we can build on stable policy discussions and best practices sharing.”
The notes provided to India-West from Kalra’s office added that there is much interest among California companies and other stakeholders to identify opportunities in the Indian market, including tech, fin-tech, e-commerce, entertainment, advanced manufacturing, as well as opportunities to take part in the development of smart and new cities where expertise on water, clean energy and efficient transport are needed.
But California stakeholders simply don’t know where to begin, it said.
“Should there be discussions in the coming year about reestablishing trade offices, as Assemblymember Kalra mentioned, then we will want to strategize where the India office should be located and how we can effectively work with State and FCS to synchronize efforts. The Assembly’s subnational strategy research could help inform this process,” the e-mail said.
Kalra’s office noted that the delegation had meetings at two universities – Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana.
“There was strong interest among our legislators to start discussions about how we can encourage more formal partnerships between Indian and California universities,” it said. “But we were told that the Indian government has made it rather challenging to form these partnerships.”
The hope, from Kalra’s perspective, is to revisit this topic and open a U.S.-India dialogue.
With regard to educational partnerships, Kalra’s office said that the idea of more student exchanges was also a key topic, saying, “U.S.-China has the 100,000 strong goal; why not U.S.-India?”
The Kalra-championed delegation, officially sanctioned by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, is the first-ever for the state Assembly. Other members of the six-member delegation were Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Richard Bloom, Sharon Quirk-Silva, Eloise Gómez Reyes and Mark Stone – all of whom are Democrats.
Kalra told India-West in a phone interview prior to embarking on the trip that the group of assemblymembers includes a good geographical and gender representation of the state, as well as covering urban and agricultural communities. The delegation visited New Delhi, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Mumbai and Punjab.
“There is an opportunity here to continue to build long-term relationships between California and India, and explore ways we can work together to achieve our respective goals. In addition, there is strong interest in exploring how we can work together to ensure that, in a connected and tech-based world, democracy can still thrive,” Kalra said before the trip.
Kalra, who ran unopposed in the 2018 election, represents San José in the 27th Assembly District and previously served on the San José City Council, and was its first Indian American elected to the local office.
He currently serves as the chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment. Kalra was previously the chair of the Aging and Long-Term Care Committee, of which he remains a member, and continues to serve on the Education, Judiciary and Water, Parks and Wildlife committees.
In his first term, Kalra introduced a diverse range of legislation that includes resources for affordable housing, expanding protections for undocumented students in higher education, defending tenant rights, and addressing issues surrounding sustainability and conservation, the release said.