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‘America can learn from India’s food security experience’

Ami Bera is a self-made man and pursued what is called the American Dream. Son of an Indian immigrant couple from Rajkot in Gujarat, Bera is the only Indian American currently serving in the Congress, and third after Dilip Singh Saund and Bobby Jindal to be from the community in the House. During the last week of August, he made his first trip to India after being elected to the House of Representative from Sacramento, the seventh district of California. In his short tenure in the US House of Representatives, Bera, a doctor by qualification, has made significant strides by becoming a co-sponsor of ‘No Budget, No Pay’ legislation. According to this legislation, ‘Members of Congress will not be paid if they can’t approve a budget and all annual spending bills on time.’ He is also a member of House Committee on Foreign Affairs and member of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans – both lobby group on Indians and Indian Americans.<br><br>During his visit, he took keen interest in the parliamentary debate of food security and watched it on television. In this interview, Bera said India needs to scale up food security and feed its citizens, and that is one area in which the US can learn from the Indian experience. Bera also said he would love to see an Indian American going to the White House in his lifetime. Edited excerpts:<br><br><b>You have come to India at a difficult time when the rupee has had a free fall against the dollar. The India story is also going through a crisis, with the growth rate dipping below five per cent. Has the perception on India changed in Washington? How do US policymakers see India now?<br></b>India had been growing at a rapid rate in the past. However, it is not posting the same kind of growth. The United States had gone through the same cycle. Four years ago, we faced real challenges (financial crisis after the fall of Lehman Brothers). Now we have started to recover. Both governments (New Delhi and Washington) are working together to realise the potential on trade and foreign direct investments from India to the US and vice versa. Both are aiming to regain growth.<br>I think the best way to move the relationship forward is by going back on the trajectory of trade. It is beneficial for both economies. Every US Congressman has an interest in India but not all have a deep understanding of the country.<br><br><b>Do you think India has lost its clout as its economic growth slowed down in the last couple of years?</b><br>No, this is very natural. It happens in a business cycle. India will certainly return to the high growth trajectory. Both countries (India and US) have become more inward-looking when the crisis has hit and also due to domestic and economic problems. Both will (also) realise their full potential (for) foreign direct investment (FDI).<br><br><b>You recently spoke about not complicating Indo-US business cooperation. Were your comments in the reference of the ‘policy paralysis’ here? Have US companies complained about ‘deteriorating’ business environment here?</b><br>Some US companies certainly have concerns about intellectual property rights in India (and) problems of transparency... about how decisions are being made. Indian companies want to make sure there is an innovation policy that contributes to the US. There have been discussions on those issues; it is better to keep negotiations at business-to-business level and at conversation level in both countries.<br><br>The Indian IT industry needs to make a case before US policymakers about how many jobs they have contributed to the US economy. For India, there are also issues of changing immigration rules and visa problems in the US. The comprehensive immigration reform bill has been passed by the US Senate and is with the House of Representatives, of which you are a member. The best and the brightest come to the United States, (which is) necessary for our economy. It creates job growth. Politicians get involved when stories appear in the media. My suggestion is that this is better negotiated.<br><br><b>The Lok Sabha has just passed the food security bill. How are such big legislations perceived in the US?<br></b>I watched the debate on food security on television. As India addresses food security and scales up to feed (its) population, we will learn a lot from you. You have to address unique supply chain issues from the perspective of food wastage and spoilage. It will focus on how to better manage or store food, or move that food to the market. You have to address the price point issue to get those products in the market. As India discovers price point and scalability, we have to take those discoveries back to the US. The food and agriculture sector is an ideal starting point. There is also a lot of opposition in India to allow entry of retail giants like Wal-Mart… We have had wonderful meetings with MPs and various ministers. There is a desire (among them) to move on to the next level.<br><br><b>With general elections due next year, do you foresee a relationship change between the two countries in case of a change of guard?<br></b>This relationship has to be broader than one election cycle to the next. The strategic partnership between India and the United States shouldn’t be based on a particular election cycle or a single party. It should be based on the potential which is vibrant for both democracies. This is about two countries – the US is the oldest democracy and India the largest democracy – working together in the 21st century. This partnership, as US president Barack Obama pointed out, can be the defining partnership in this century.<br><br>If we look at the business-to-business perspectives, then trade has gone up from $20 billion to nearly $100 billion (and) US vice president Joe Biden spoke about the volume of trade between both countries going up to $500 billion. There is a unique asset that both countries possess: we have innovative people. The US has access to capital, system of higher education and some of the expertise in our universities. India has asset in intellectual capital and drives some of the start-ups and innovations.<br><br><b>But how should the hiccups be addressed?<br></b>Of course, there are concerns on both sides. Let’s overcome these concerns and impediments. Let’s go on a growth trajectory. That will also make the partnership go stronger… My aim is to jump-start the relationship.<br><br><b>Will the US government consider granting visa to Narendra Modi?<br></b>That’s an issue with the State Department. If the Gujarat chief minister wants to visit the US, he needs to apply for a visa that has to be approved by the State Department.<br><br><b>Indian Americans, despite being a vibrant community, have still not made their presence felt in American politics. Any specific reason?<br></b>As first-generation immigrants, Indian-origin people (professionals, doctors, engineers etc) are more involved in establishing themselves. People in the US are fond of India and Indians. As the community is growing, Indian-Americans are starting to get more engaged in politics. But certainly getting more (Indian American) people to run (for political positions) is the first step.<br>I think it is only a matter of time before someone (from the community) starts to run for Senate. We don’t have any member from our community in the Senate. I hope we will have four or five other Indian American Congressmen in the coming decade. I would also love to see an Indian American as US president in my lifetime.<br><br><i><b>On arrangement with </b></i><b>Governance Now</b>
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