ANAHIEM, Calif. – In his swing through Southern California last week, India’s Ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, cut a wide swathe meeting with several Indian American community groups in Los Angeles, organized by the India Association of Los Angeles and other groups; Orange and San Diego counties; academicians at UCLA and UCSD; elected officials from the GOP and Democratic Party; businesspeople; and defense officials. There were also moments of encounters with stars from the film and music industry. (See separate story.)
Given the far-flung nature of Southern California, it meant logging miles on Los Angeles’ freeways – most of it done on time but with at least one miss in the San Fernando Valley. The ambassador was accompanied by Dr. Nagendra Prasad, India’s consul general in San Francisco; deputy consul general Rajesh Naik; and Vasudev Ravi, first secretary, Embassy of India. All mingled congenially with attendees – even when the inevitable questions on the intractable and perennially thorny issue of visas to India was brought up – assuring support and help as needed. The ambassador pointed out not a single consulate had shut down during the worst days of the pandemic.
Among the highlights in the stop at San Diego July 16 was the formal receipt of two of the 24 Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk multirole helicopters ordered by India last year for $2.12 billion. An Indian crew is reported to be training in the U.S. on the operations of the new acquisition. The Indian ambassador also visited the Dalip Singh Saund Post Office in Temecula, California, named for the first Indian American congressman.
In Orange County, on July 17, Sandhu attended an outdoor dinner reception hosted by Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu at his residence. The invitee list included several businesspersons as well as Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA) and Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA).
Sidhu, dealing with a city economy battered by the loss of tourist dollars due to the pandemic, and coming from a fresh “State of the City” address a couple of days earlier, where he had promised the start of a golden age, had his eye on the ball saying, “From the ashes of the pandemic let’s boldly work together for a bright future of progress together where much can be done through meaningful economic development, investment and creativity.”
He told the ambassador, “Our common goal is to strengthen trade ties and develop new economic opportunities for both countries. In Anaheim, we are the city of hopes and dreams. My vision is to empower that American dream.”
The ambassador, in his speech, saw various areas where collaboration could occur. Sandhu, over the years, has done several rotations in various capacities in Washington and the UN Mission in New York, and seemed to have his finger on the pulse when he said, “It is very important that the next generation is aware of India. Not just the cultural and social side but the economic side too.”
He ran through a laundry list of areas of bilateral cooperation, including health, IT and defense. The envoy pointed out that the renewable energy sector was of great importance to India and there was keen interest in the U.S. in the knowledge sector, too. College officials were interested in enrolling more students from India and setting up campuses in India, he said, while offering the interesting fact that three-fourths of the 200,000 students from India in the U.S. were in STEM studies.
All these areas, concluded Sandhu, were huge areas of interest and investment. “Tell your children, they can take advantage,” he urged.
Also speaking at the event was Rep. Steel, who said, like Mayor Sidhu, she too was a symbol of the American Dream, being a first generation Asian. Rep. Correa made a brief appearance, making some predictable remarks on the biggest and greatest democracies – India and the U.S.
A minor kerfuffle came from a rather unexpected quarter when Punjabi music’s superstar, Jazzy B, whom Sidhu was excited to host, in his remarks drew attention to the plight of farmers protesting the new agricultural laws in India. Sensitive to the issue, which has taken on major political connotations in India, the ambassador was quick to return to the microphone and, in Punjabi, explain the need for change and removal of antiquated systems. The moment passed.
As India-West went to press, on July 19, in Los Angeles, the Indian envoy met with Tony Vinciquerra, chairman of Sony Pictures. Later, at the Rand Corporation, headquartered in Santa Monica, he held meetings with its president and CEO Michael Rich.