DESI TALK CHICAGO – that’s all you need to know 4 April 12, 2019 COVER STORY By Sujeet Rajan -NEWYORK ndia’s Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who assumed office in January of this year, inWashington, DC, has his work cut out for him: ceaselessly pro- mote US-India ties on all fronts, gather bipartisan support for India in condemn- ing cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and, importantly, keep a placid front, without flinching, not show even the hint of a grimace, when things go down south on matters of trade or immigration. Shringla’s job is to take into his, and in India’s stride, new rules and regulations put in place by the Trump administration, to navigate around future friction points. Firmly look at the sunny side of things. Put things in perspective. Press on for a better tomorrow. In Shringla, India has chosen the perfect man for the moment. A veteran, suave diplomat with a win- some smile, Shringla exudes old world charm, humility and grace in all his actions, words, and interactions. He infus- es a mix of gravitas and effervescence in gatherings that he attends. He holds audi- ence spell-bound by his command over the facts and figures that define Indo-US ties. Before he assumed office in Washington, DC, Shringla last served as the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh. In the course of a diplomatic career span- ning 35 years, Shringla has held a variety of positions in New Delhi and abroad includ- ing Ambassador of India to Thailand. Shringla has served in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, as joint secre- tary (director general) responsible for Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives. He has also headed the United Nations Political and SAARC Divisions in the ministry. Earlier, he served as director of the Northern Division dealing with Nepal and Bhutan and as deputy secretary of the EuropeWest Division. A graduate of St. Stephen's College, Delhi University, Shringla has worked in the corporate and public sectors in India prior to joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1984. Shringla speaks French, Vietnamese and Nepalese apart from English and Indian languages, according to the Ministry of External Affairs. In an exclusive interview to Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, at the Indian Consulate in NewYork, on April 4, Shringla delved into several important issues, including on terrorism and fake news spiraling from Pakistan, immigration woes, tariffs, India’s immense contribution to the US economy, and his memorable interaction with President Trump. EXCERPTS FROMTHE INTERVIEW: Eight hundred and ninety seven million voters are going to cast their vote in India’s upcoming elections. Do you get to cast your vote? Or are you deprived of your right to vote because you are serving India in a special way? In a week from now we will be embark- ing on the largest democratic exercise any- where in the world. The logistics and the magnitude of these elections are unprece- dented and staggering. I think what the government has done this time is that it made it open voting for those representatives of India who are posted abroad in the public interest. Those who are serving in any embassy would be allowed to cast their vote. This is, in a cer- tain way, partly electronic and partly ballot. You will get your ballot through the elec- tronic process and then you have to fill in your ballot and send it by what we call diplomatic bag. So it is counted more as a postal ballot. Ambassador, no doubt the US has sup- ported India in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. Since you assumed office, you have met a lot of lawmakers. Going forward, what is the general consensus amongst these lawmakers, on how to deal with Pakistan? Let’s be very clear on one thing. When we engage with our interlocutors in the United States, we have a range of issues that we speak about. Those involve our own relationship, which is a multifaceted one. It involves a vision of how we see our region and the world. It involves coopera- tion in economic areas. On environmental areas. On people-to-people contacts. There are a range of issues that we discuss. When we talk of our neighbors, (when) we talk of other countries, the issue of Pakistan does come up. But it is incidental. I would not like you to believe that this country (Pakistan) is a primary focus of ours. It happens to be a neighbor of ours. Agreeably, a troublesome neighbor. It should not be a country that diverts us from our main focus, which is the develop- ment of close ties with other states, partic- ularly the important partners and inter- locutors like the United States. What about fake news coming out of Pakistan. There is a flurry of fake news, and sometimes there is apprehension as to what exactly is going on. How do you make sure that lawmakers are kept aware of, kept abreast of, what is really happening, and what is India’s stance? Well, let’s say that we are very happy that Facebook has come out very clearly in terms of policy to detect news that are fake. And as you know there is an entire cyber industry in Pakistan that is involved in the circulation of fake news, and spreading rumor and speculation on lines that are clearly, you know, both designed to spread confusion and designed to, actually, (cre- ate) rift between countries. So, in that sense they (Facebook) have identified a large number of such accounts in Pakistan, and have shut them. And we believe that such actions are very neces- sary in order for social media to be an area where people can have more faith on. Can look through social media without feeling that they are constantly being influenced in a manner that is factually incorrect. This phenomenon is in many different parts of the world. It is particularly disturb- ing that a good amount of that emanates either from Pakistan or on account of Pakistan. Ambassador, share your memory of being in the presence of President Trump when you presented your credentials after you assumed office, inWashington, DC. Is there anything that has stayed with you? I arrived on the 9th of January this year and within 48 hours I got an appointment with the President. I can say that the meet- ing I had with the President in order to present credentials is one I remember with a lot of positive sentiment because the warmth, the candor and the good will that he expressed when he met me was truly unique, I think. He was very affable, very kind. I would even say jovial, and I left with a very good feeling of his sentiments first and foremost for India, and of course, his very close relationship to the Prime Minister (Modi). In fact, he (Trump) said he had just spo- ken to the Prime Minister and he was look- ing forward to speaking to him again, and he was looking forward to, more often. I think that reflects the progress we have made in the last few years. It’s because of the account of the leadership exercised by both President Trump and by Prime Minister Modi. The relationship has led with a level of the principals and that makes it easier for all of us to implement the basis on which both leaders attach importance to the relationship. President Trump has always touted ‘America First’. And Prime Minister Modi has touted ‘India First’. Both are right in their own way. But when it comes to the area of trade, there is the likelihood of cer- tain difference of ways of looking at trade, and trade wars. With regard to what you said about ‘India First’ and ‘America First’, I think you would have seen that Prime Minister Modi has made a statement saying there is no contradiction between ‘America First’ and ‘India First’. Both countries have priorities, but we are both engaged in cooperating in areas that are mutually beneficial. And there are lots of areas where we have com- plementarities. And these are areas in terms of investment, and in terms of trade, in terms of economic exchanges we are engaged in. And that is reflected in the fig- ures. In the year 2018, two-way trade increased by 13%. American exports to India increased by close to 30%. And, of course, the adverse trade balance, which is in favor of India, came down significantly. In the last two years, the adverse trade bal- ance came down from around $25 billion to $21 billion, and that is because we are buying more American goods. Last year, we purchased four and a half billion dol- lars of oil and gas. This year onwards, we have a commitment to purchase five and a half billion dollars. Indian companies have placed orders for 300 commercial aircraft worth $39 billion. We have introduced new items to import from the United States like India's Suave Diplomat I Photos:Peter Feereira In an exclusive interview Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla credits Prime Minister Modi for bilateral achievements, discusses myriad issues The Indian Ambassador to the United States, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, at the Consulate General of India, New York, on April 4, 2019. Continued On Page 6