Assemblymember Kalra to lead tour to build California-India ties

The assembly members will go across the country to work out deals with regulators and industry


Ritu Jha


Ash Kalra, a member of the California assembly, will lead a team to India to build a long-term relationship between India and his state.

Kalra. the first Indian American to lead such a team, is also the first Indian American assembly member in California.

The announcement was made October 24 at the second US-India Future Connectivity Series (FCS), hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC), Kalra and the San Jose State University.

The trip, sanctioned by Anthony Rendon, the assembly speaker, will take six assembly members December 4 through 14 to New Delhi, Hyderabad, Vijayvada, Hyderabad, Mumbai and cities in Punjab.

Kalra explained to indica why he thought the trip made sense now.

“We have a new governor coming starting January and we want to make the India-California relationship a priority in the next administration,” he said, adding that the legislators will meet state-level officials to discuss how to navigate California’s regulatory and business environment.

California has the fifth-largest economic in the world, while and India is the fastest-growing one.

“We see great opportunity for both our economies. We have to be intentional about building relations and with other state government in India,” Kalra said. “We can ensure opportunity for private sector companies as thoroughly as possible.” He opined that government often gets in the way with regulations and so the team will have to work on that with national and state officials in India.

Addressing US tariffs, an issue that had roiled trade relationships with other countries, he said, “We cannot control it at the federal level but, certainly, at the state level we can help to facilitate growth.”

Kalra was a San Jose council member in 2015 who hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the SAP center and, later, a parade of visiting ministers. from both state and national levels. Recently, Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister for law and justice, and electronics and information technology visited the Silicon Valley.

Kalra said that these visitors were coming because they see an opportunity in California.

“We need to show them that we also see that opportunity and care about the relationship,” he said, calling for the state government to facilitate the relationship, with academia also playing a key role. He pointed out that some California companies are launching units in India because of the enormous opportunity available there.

He spoke of his reasons to visit Punjab.

“Most delegations don’t go to Punjab. I have made a point we go there because the Punjabi community here was the first community to build roots in California and has the longest history here,” Kalra said. He said the other factor was that the Indian state faces some of the same issues as California does – a dearth of water, air pollution, a focus on farming.

“We need to work together and continue to grow and ensure that how we do it that doesn’t damage the environment and water quality for future generations,” he said.

Kara said Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor who will most likely be the next governor, is excited about the trip and has expressed his interest in building the California India relationship.

Nisha Biswal, president of the US-India Business Council at the US Chamber of Commerce, who was at the event, told indica, “If you really want to grow the US-India trade relationship you have to go beyond [Washington DC] and connect to the community in US and India. She said USIBC has developed a future connectivity series and is identifying the communities, technologies and sectors in which the US and India can work together.

“California is an obvious place to start,” said Biswal, pointing out that USIBC has held the first connectivity series in Los Angeles and now the second one was being held in the Bay Area – at San Jose State University. The plan was to take it across the US, while also engaging Indian states about investment opportunities there and in the US.

She said one area of serious discussion was regulation.

“The question I ask we are dealing with how you regulate technology, AI, data privacy and data governance. India is asking the same question and Europe is asking the same,” she said. “Rather than trying to develop policy in a vacuum, we should see how can we [in industry] engage in all of these different ecosystems to create the right balanced policy outcome that protect the interest of the policy makers and citizens but also creates economic opportunity.”

She said that since she has spent most of her career in policy she understood what policymakers look for, and said there was a need for a partnership between industry and the public sector, too. She was assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs in the United States State Department from 2014 to 2017.

Biswal described the Indian government’s work on data localization as an ongoing process. She said that General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) is making companies consider the privacy issues seriously in Europe and India.

“We are in a very dynamic situation right now. And I think it will be some time before we know what the stable state is,” Biswal said. “The more we talk the better we understand each other and come with the right outcome.”

While California assembly member Eloise Gomez Reyes seemed excited by the opportunities the trip provided, assembly member Bill Quirk had many questions about the government.

Reyes, who represents California’s district 47, said, “We have a lot of problem with air quality and would look at what they are doing there on that front. It’s a big issue in India as well.”

She said regulation and tariffs were some possible sticking points, and that the team could listen to what the Indians think California can do to address the problems they face.

Assemblymember Quirk expressed concern that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) bore some resemblance to the Republican party here.

“If you come from Bangladesh as a Hindu you are a refugee and if you are Muslim you are illegal immigrant,” said Quirk who represents District 27 in a state with a high ratio of Sikhs.

“No one ever got justice for the attack on Sikhs in 1984 [in the riots that followed the killing of India Gandhi, the then prime minister, by her Sikh bodyguards],” he said.

Quirk also touched upon the issue of the lynching of people involved in the beef trade.

“We know the BJP is an offshoot of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh] and that it is stressing on the sacredness of cows, putting Dalits and Muslims in great jeopardy,” he said. “Nothing is being done about it.”

Quirk also discussed the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax in India, saying that while Modi is being described as a modern economic reformist, his unilateral approach had hurt smaller businesses in India.

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