Perceptions of Today's India in America
By Arindam Banerji

(Arindam Banerji is an young Silicon Valley scientist.)

You've quite possibly heard about the resolution initially passed by the House, in the US Congress; the one that banned France, Russia, Germany and Syria from getting contracts in the rebuilding of Iraq. Eventually, it did not get through the Senate, but what most of us did not see was that an amendment to add China's name to the list got voted down without any consideration at all. What do you think would have happened, if India's name had been on the list?

I'm not certain, but, I'm sure all of us can make a pretty good guess; after all, CNN thought well enough about China's business environment to do a multi-part series on it, business magazines fall over themselves to do cover stories on China's extraordinary growth and recently, on MSNBC Jack Welch was drooling about new opportunities in China.

Notice no one is talking about China's handing out nukes to any old mad dictator that comes along or that China busily set up Iraq's command and control links.

All the while, we Indian Americans have a panic attack trying to defend ourselves against the latest allegations of state terrorism by Pakistan or every third week face an article or two about how these brown South Asians should be denuked, since we couldn't possibly understand how dangerous these bombs could be. May be once in a while we get a news report or two on IITs, or an article on how IT jobs are going to India, but most of the focus talks about dangerous flashpoints, Kashmir, Hindu fundamentalists and what not.

I'm quite sure that there is some truth to all this - there always is, but India of today is not just about this!! Just walk into any research lab in the US, count the number of Indians - chances are, you'll find more Indian Americans than anyone else.

Look up the startups in the last 5 years in Silicon Valley - 60% of the time, you'll find Indian Americans in the founding team. Survey any Fortune 500 company, almost certainly you'll find them sending their operations off-shore to India and quite possibly you'll find an Indian American or two in the board-room. So, how widely is all this known; for example, do people know that:

The question isn't whether you or I know these facts or even whether the American media has reported on this, but how many Americans associate India with the above? Do you think that most Americans associate India with the above facts and not with stereotypical cows on roads scene or the Pakistan-Kashmir nuclear conflict? How many Americans will remember in the recent past, CBS has done two shows on South Asian educational institutions, the first one focused on the most visible educational institutions of Pakistan, that is, Binori and Haqqania madrassas, with their noxious connection to jihad; while, the second show was on India's IITs with the deduced conclusion that they might well be better than Harvard and Princeton? But, is this the association that Americans make when they think (if they do so at all) about India.

I can bet you though, that when they think of China, they remember that it's where most of their TVs and toys now get manufactured; they know about its advanced manufacturing, huge markets and growing trade with the US. Some probably may think about the whole democracy thing or lack thereof - but, what do they focus on ultimately?

There is after all, not that much difference between China's technological prowess and India's; in fact, even though they may beat us on labor laws and taxation, in terms of creativity one might put Indian man-power ahead; but does the world know about this? China, however has built a very different image for itself than India has, primarily, through its lobbying and marketing.

China could have focused on Taiwan issues in its lobbying, but it didn't. Never ever will you hear the Tibet issues raised anywhere in the US or a whole lot said about Taiwan or for that matter, anything much said about China's tendency to hand out nuclear weapons to rogue nations. Yes, China has a larger economy, but China has had this image in the mid-nineties, when its economy was not much larger than India's current GDP.

While China is doing all this, what do we do? We complain loudly about being equated with Pakistan, about being unfairly cornered on nuclear weapons and of course end up fighting endlessly amongst ourselves about Hindutva or not to Hindutva. Most of us do - not all, but most us do this; but who cares?? Remember, if we say Pakistan is responsible for the killings in Kashmir, Pakistan will immediately pay some one to fake injury from Indian shelling - hard to win this battle isn't it!!

But, suppose we take Siemens/Agilent executives to Andhra Pradesh and show them how interconnected telematics is being used to reduce fuel consumption in APSRTC buses - for the first time in the world. What if we take them to IIT Bombay and show them, how the joint IIT-Microsoft research is going on? Better still take them to HAL and show them the range of aircrafts and technologies we're building. Have we not changed the equation?

Suppose, instead of taking senators, reporters and legislators to Kashmir occasionally, let us:

Show them once, show them again and when they've seen it, show them again. Guess what! *We've just changed the equation*.

But, are we ready to CHANGE THE EQUATION? 
We tend to fret and fuss, whenever someone brings up the issue of Kashmir and India in a negative light. Not that we should not react to such misrepresentations. We must. However, much more harmful strategic decisions that affect India economically do not draw any reaction at all. Recently, a legislator from New Hampshire got a resolution passed against Indian presence in Kashmir. Since then, many Indian Americans spent countless hours writing to this legislator, in an effort to change his mind. On the other hand, GE which was gung-ho about its investments in India in the mid-nineties, has recently decided to make most of its investments in China. The question is how many of us stayed up all night, writing up petitions to Jeff Immelt or how many of us have called the embassy of India to figure out what went wrong in this case? For all we know, the Jeff Immelt decision may in time, have much more significance than the one by a no-name legislator from New Hampshire. But, we were not ready to define ourselves, with this bigger more complete view of what India really is.

If we do not change this equation, we will never win - WE MUST CHANGE THE EQUATION. Otherwise, 5 years from now even with an economy 10 or 15 times the size of Pakistan, the State Department will happily equate a failed terrorist state with a country that is on its way to becoming the *intellectual /technology center of the world*; and, it will be our fault.

So, what are we waiting for?

Let's, now get to specifics:

First, lets NOT start yet-another US-India organization - there are enough of those and they're doing just fine. What makes more sense at this stage is a loose-knitting of individuals, groups and organizations US-wide that can collaborate on a few specific goals and carry out simple, independent activities to help achieve those goals.

The strategic goals for such efforts within the US should be:

1. Change Brand India - Project an image of India that highlights India's *unique creative, highly talented* man-power. Show people that the second center of innovation in the world after Silicon Valley, CA is Bangalore/Hyderabad. Show people, that India's main claim to fame aren't cows on roads, Kashmir, cheap labor or our proficiency in English, but the *creativity that will bring the next generation of innovations*.

2. Facilitate better business environment for US businesses in India - show US business managers why India is the place to invest for manufacturing and not China; if this means we have to call the BJP office in Ahmedabad, Delhi or Chennai to work around red-tape then so be it.

The activities that we, as a loose network of individuals with India's interests at heart, could work together on, include:

Having said that, there are no hard and fast rules, please do write to us with suggestions and criticisms and help make this campaign broad and effective. LET US WORK TOGETHER TO CHANGE THE EQUATION.

Comments By Ram Narayanan

I am sure you will not disagree with the thrust of the Arindam Banerji message conveyed above - the fact that we dissipate our energies in engaging with a set of issues on which repeatedly there is an Indo-Pak equivalency in the eyes of the beholder. Though much needed from India's security point of view, the ensuing discourse consistently saps the energies and intellect of many of our well-meaning colleagues. Perhaps the time has come for the community to fork out on two fronts - India's security, and India as a brand. Many of us who engage in such efforts in any case do try and do this; however I would much agree with the author that we need a separate and well-thought out campaign that addresses the "image", "perception", and a "branding" for India in the comity of nations.

I look forward to receiving your thoughts on how to go about laying the building blocks of a new look US-India relationship.

Best wishes,

Ram Narayanan
US India Friendship

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