The Tuesday Interview | ‘America is the only Superpower. India, US need to be the strongest allies’

'The US would have liked it much more if India had seen Russia's aggression for what it was and what it is and taken a stand'
Last Updated : 13 June 2023, 07:00 IST

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US Congressman Shri Thanedar will escort Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he enters the United States Congress to address a joint session on June 22. In an interview with DH’s Sumit Pande, Thanedar discusses his journey from Belagavi to Michigan, the challenges of the American immigration system, and the need for India to acknowledge the unipolarity of the new world order, with the US as the sole superpower. Excerpts:

Let’s begin with your early life back in India, your memories back home, and your journey from Belagavi to Michigan.

Well, I’m a Maharashtrian, but I was born and grew up in Belagavi, Karnataka. I lived 18 years of my life, went to high school and college, and got a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from GSS College, Belagavi.

You know, growing up in Karnataka, my father lost his job. I had six sisters and a brother, so the family fell into financial hardship, and being the elder son, as Indian culture is, I took on the responsibility of taking care of the family. At times, I worked menial jobs, sometimes as a janitor, cleaning offices to supplement my family’s income. Later on, I went to Mumbai, got a Master’s degree in chemistry, worked at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and when I was 24, I got admission into the US for a PhD programme.

Many Indian Americans have had to wait for years to get immigration clearance. Do you think US immigration laws need holistic reforms?

Yes, absolutely. There have not been meaningful immigration bills in Congress since the mid-1990s. The immigration system, as you saw through my example, is thoroughly broken. India and China have a long line to get green card clearance, and sometimes the wait is very long—10–12 years long—so what that means is family separation and a lot of hardships and a lot of stress on the workers and their families, and these are people that are highly trained.

Many tech companies need a skilled workforce and are struggling because they don’t have qualified workers. These companies heavily depend on foreign-trained workers.

There is sometimes a misconception that immigrants take jobs from Americans. But there are just not enough Americans to take these jobs. Having these foreign-born scientists and facilitating their gainful employment will actually help the American economy. I’m acutely aware of the immigration reforms that are badly needed.

Modi will be in the US later this month. What do you think are the areas in which the two countries need to work to strengthen ties?

Well, a number of areas: space technology, defence technology, workforce development, clean energy, and education. These are the two strongest and largest democracies. As a US Congressman, I feel it’s vitally important that the two countries have strong ties.

I have been watching India-US ties since Indira Gandhi was PM. Back in the days, India talked a lot about non-alignment and tried to balance its relationship with the US and the Soviet Union.

Fast forward now, and we have seen what Russia has done. Russia has been an aggressor, and Putin has been a ruthless dictator. He has encroached on a sovereign country like Ukraine. They are no longer a superpower. The only superpower left in the world, I think, is the US.

So globally, things have changed dramatically over the years. And yet, I feel that India hasn’t recognised that. And while India and the US have good relationships, we don’t have as strong a relationship as I would like to see. India and the US need to be the strongest allies.

You mentioned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Do you think India’s position on that led to the souring of relations in the interim?

Yes, it would have been much more favourable; the US would have liked it much more if India had seen the aggression for what it was and what it is and taken a stand against that aggression.

But our relations with India go much deeper; we are friends and allies, and when you are friends and allies, you accept friendship with defects. And it’s perfectly fine for the two countries to talk about these differences.

How do you see the evolution of Indo-US relations in the context of China and the way QUAD is evolving?

That is another reason why India and the US need to have a strong relationship because, in the Indo-Pacific region, China has been an aggressor, and India has experienced the aggression of China. If these two democracies can become trusted friends and have a deep relationship, that would go a long way towards arresting China’s aggression.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi articulated his views on the current state of democracy in India during his US visit. What are your thoughts on that?

No country is perfect, and no democracy is perfect. We can always improve, and we can always do better. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Indian democracy is strong. As a US Congressperson, I trust in the people of India and in their democratic process, and it is the duty of the US to work with the leader who has been elected by the Indian people.

So as far as the US is concerned, we will always work with the leader that the people of India have chosen to lead without any interference in India’s internal affairs.

Published 12 June 2023, 18:01 IST

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