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EXCLUSIVE: Indian Consul General in San Francisco TV Nagendra Prasad addresses Indian Americans’ concerns

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Nagendra Prasad

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — San Francisco welcomed a new Consul General of India this summer. In the first sit-down interview (virtually) Consul General Nagendra Prasad discusses his plans to lead the office during this pandemic

Ravi Kapur: We’re joined today by the new Consul General of San Francisco TV Nagendra Prasad who has just joined this consulate from Turkmenistan after spending some time there as an Ambassador and coming here overseas in the middle of a pandemic. Mr. Ambassador thank you very much for being here with us.

Nagendra Prasad: Thank you very much Ravi, and I’m honored to be in San Francisco. Just before coming here I was in Delhi, I was heading the Gulf Division in the Ministry of External Affairs. And then I was in the midst of the evacuations from the Gulf. We had 9 million Indians. We were busy with that. In the midst of the pandemic I came here to San Francisco to take over as Consul General. I’m very happy, honored, and privileged to be here. One, because it is the largest consulate area wise. Also it has the most dynamic and vibrant Indian community. I could experience in my first week the dynamism. I could see on your TV itself is an example itself of the dynamism of Indians on the west coast. Particularly San Francisco because of the tech etcetera. In India everyone knows of San Francisco because of basically the tech groups and what the Indian community has achieved in this part of the U.S. It brought a lot of influence to India and it has completely changed the perception of Indians abroad in the world.

RK: Give us your impression of being in the United States at this time. I understand we talked briefly before, this is your first time in San Francisco. So give us your impression of what it is to come to America in a time of, let’s face it India is going through economic strife, America is going through economic strife, the world is dealing with this pandemic. And the complications of living in a society where we have so many haves and have nots, some of us can continue to live and work in a virtual world, and there’s so many other people that, let’s face it, are really struggling with this dynamic. So when you see the world in india and you see how the United States is operating within these restraints, what is your impression of what is going on globally, and what can we do collectively, whether it’s the United States or India, to improve upon matters, because certainly I see so much strife going on all over the world.

NP: You’re right, I think such a pandemic was not seen by anyone within the last century. In India we have started very swiftly the lockdowns to slow down the spread of the virus, I think that has been very successful. As we speak I think there has been an increase in the numbers, but if you look into the analysis of the data that we have you can see we have in the million to a million five hundred and fifty infections in a million, deaths are also very less, our recovery rates are around 62 percent. At the same time the U.S. is the world leader and they have systems in place. The numbers were high, but the way the government controlled and exchanged best practices. I think every country has its own way of dealing with it, and particularly I’m here at the point in time where India and U.S. strategy comprehensive partnership is in an upswing. I’m happy to be here at this time, but i must also tell you that everybody must share their experiences in order to fight the pandemic. I think you saw sometimes that the curve has flattened in somes countries, and others have spiked. The good news was last week that there is a vaccine coming in India in my hometown. There were many vaccines and proposals that came up from many parts of the world, but this one is planned to launch in August, and human trials have already started. Everybody has been working on it, people are looking at India at this point in time. Our healthcare professionals on the frontline fighting the pandemic, not only in the U.S. but also the Gulf Region, we can continue to help them by sending medicine and health care personnel. India as you mentioned, everyone is going through economic strife, I think that revival is required now for the global economy. You can see that the government of Indian has given a slew of economic reforms to help boost the economy. In this particular scenario there is a hope that India will lead this global revival of the economy. I’m happy to share that everybody is working in India towards this subject. You know India has a 1.3 Billion population and we have several other challenges. The government has been providing various welfare measures such as the food supplies, oil supply chains, and keeping global supply chains outside of India. For example we’ve kept global supply chains open for the Gulf Region where we send a lot of food items. And then we have kept up the medical supply lines globally to help fight the pandemic.

RK: When you’re talking to your colleagues here in the United States when you were back in India what was the engagement like? Is there sharing going on in the collegial atmosphere, or are folks saying “I need PPE for my country, i need to have vaccines and other pharmaceuticals for my people, we’ll help you when we can”? What is your impression of that?

NP: I can tell you sitting in Delhi that there was a huge demand at one time for medicines like hydroxychloroquine, PPE, and masks. Looking at governments in some countries, requirements were not met yet. In the beginning there were some countries, but later on nobody was sitting on hydroxychloroquine and it became easier to make masks. We have doubled up self sufficiency and increased production in export oriented zones and then we started sending to various places in the world. Over 100 countries in the world have benefited from medical supplies from India. Meanwhile during the lockdown we have ramped up production of PPEs and masks. So that is how it has been tackled, it was a big challenge. It cannot be achieved  by simple policy, the government and the Prime Minister and chief ministers are on a regular basis ensuring that everything is moving in a unidirectional level to fight the pandemic

RK: What can folks in the United States do to help India fight COVID-19?

NP: The Indian community is very strong abroad, particularly here and in the technology and science sectors. There are a lot of cooperation programs going on with medicine. The remdasvil if you recall, and the American companies have identified and worked with several Indian companies to produce medicine in larger quantities. The healthcare research particularly, private technological entrepreneurs from the Indian community are very much in touch with India and are conducting research and sharing knowledge with ventilators which are of great use during this pandemic. So I think the INdian community community in the United States and especially the community on the west coast, I think now the technology will help cooperation and heal the economy. There is a lot of opportunity in India by investing, and it isn’t unilateral, it is a win win situation. Investing in India provides the opportunity. India has created the ecosystem for investing from abroad. Our abroad community is vigilant and knowledgeable and knows that there will be various opportunities and cooperation programs in India. I request the community to be watchful of that and to reap the benefits.

RK: I have to ask about the latest developments between India and China, that made global news and caught the attention of so many here in the United States. For those folks that aren’t paying as close attention to the news as I am, India and China had a skirmish along the border, a number of people were killed, at least about 20 Indian soldiers and there’s reports saying as many as 33 or more Chinese soldiers were killed, we don’t have definitive reports yet on that. But no question both nations were heavily impacted by that skirmish. It caused a lot of folks that are paying attention to wonder if this conflict is going to spread into other facets. One of the ramifications of that certainly at least the way that it’s been analyzed is that India decided for national security to disallow 59 apps from China from being allowed to be used in India including one of the biggest apps in the world called TIktok. They’ve since acknowledged that it will cost them about six billion dollars in revenue alone. So this has huge ramifications when you have the two largest nations in the world, two of these ancient superpowers that have such rich heritage and a relationship going back hundreds and thousands of years having a standoff. Can you give us an update on the India China relationship and where it’s going now in light of recent events now that there seems to be a deescalation.

NP: I think it was an issue and then it was covered widely by the global media. I think the answer is that the Prime Minister has gone to Ladakh and gave his speech. You mentioned the apps as a security issue, so these are being taken into consideration by the Government of India. And as you rightly mentioned, this engagement happened and then there were continuous meetings between the Foreign Ministers and between our National Security Advisors as you saw that day. It has been tackled, and it is being tackled the way that it has to be. The Prime Minister’s message was very clear.

RK: Certainly there is this bubbling of momentum against Chinese technology and products in light of some of the tactics that the Chinese government has been accused of in regards to information. How do you forecast countries like the United States and India, both democracies, that delicate balance of dealing with a Chinese Government that has a different structure than both of these countries, how do you get along in the future knowing that the value system in these countries is different?

NP: Every country has to take care of its own interests, that’s how India and other countries have acted. You mentioned the apps, trade, and systems. Every country will act in its own interest, so that’s how I see how America will act on the items you mentioned, whether it’s 5G technology or apps.

RK: Given these delicate trade deals, I see that sometimes the United States and India having different styles of communicating in regards to trade deals, certainly the India China flair up is different. Has that implored the Indian government to encourage their people to do more manufacturing at home. I know that there’s a real push in the United States to manufacture more goods. Certainly when you find out during the pandemic that we don’t have a full medical supply chain. Certainly there’s not a full technological supply chain in this country, and with the lack of PPE in so many countries what is the Indian perspective on that? We know that Prime Minister Modi has the Make in India initiative, but have you seen a real push in 2020 to say “look we need to double down on all kinds of domestic manufacturing”?

NP: It’s a very important point that you have raised. It is not to close down or to contain your own production, it is basically to have self sustained self reliance and to keep production and supply chains open with global players. That is what was announced last month by the honorable Prime Minister. That program is supported by several policy measures that will ensure that kind of equity system where in your manufacturing and self reliance will be achieved. So I think we are moving in that direction. Manufacturing of PPE and masks, there has been specific emphasis to ensure that this production increases not only in India, but to help supply the world. We consider the entire globe as a family so that is how we have helped these policies. So right now we use the pharmaceuticals to help supply the world wherever it is needed, this is what we’ve been doing during this pandemic.

RK: Well there certainly is an opportunity for that, as I’ve talked to many Indian Americans who happen to be physicians that tell there that there is a dearth of PPE in this country. So there’s no question of if India is able to ramp up supply that there will be an opportunity to supply other nations. Since you’re in this unique role serving the Indian American community, I must ask, the dichotomy changes here from time to time. You’re going to be dealing with factions of folks who are very pro India and want to see India develop, and there are other folks that claim India is doing some heinous things. I see a lot of tension through social media, the way that younger people communicate. Things that i’ve noticed in the news, such as a Gandhi statue in Fresno here in California that there were some folks there trying to remove it in light of comments that are ascribed to Gandhi from decades ago in light of Black Lives Matter and other movements that are going on about social change. Tell me how you plan to negotiate some of these things, obviously it’s challenging since there’s so many factions in the world. My perspective of the world is certainly different from yours, and other people in my own family look at the world differently. So how are you able to balance that as a diplomat, since I know that is one of the more difficult parts of your job.

NP: Thankfully the majority of the Indian community are not on the Anti India side. The misleading campaigns and the western interests will be working. In my short tenure here in the last week or so I could see that the majority of the Indian community is not Anti India. You mentioned Gandhi, we have seen something on the Davis city council, and the Indian community was there to nip in the bud the Anti India campaign. During my time here I really, as you said, it has to be balanced. We will try to reach out to the people, to our own community that what we are doing stands for India so that there is no campaign that severely misleads people.

RK: Well I really appreciate you expressing that, because I do see different impressions of India being made and espoused all over the country. And as you may recall, in recent months we’ve had the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, we’ve had the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, we’ve had Seattle, Washington all come up with resolutions declaring that India was ostracizing certain factions of the Indian community back in India. And certainly it has riled up so many folks in the diaspora, so I know it’s a challenge for you to convince people that feel otherwise, but that’s one of the things that I’ve noticed and how you’re able to talk to people in the United States that feel anti India on some level.

NP: We all work with the local leaders and even our Embassy in Washington also, it makes these initiatives. We will be on the job to convey the right perspective of our own policies back home. Generally people know that they are open to interpretation, so misrepresentations will happen. We are here to take to the local leaders the right perspectives of our policies in India. It is our job to reach out to them on our objectives behind our policies.

RK: Finally in this new role as Consul General in San Francisco, what do you want to accomplish or get done while you’re here?

NP: I would like to see the most vibrant community here have a bigger role back home in India. The cooperation in technology, investments, and economic revival play a role here and there. There is some misrepresentation of our policies, so I would like to take this to the local community and leadership.  These will be the main challenges but I’m happy that the community here is so vibrant.

RK: Well we hope you enjoy your time here in San Francisco, I know we’ve had a chance to meet many of the Consul Generals here over many many years. It always seems like you have a very short stint here, so make the most of it. I know traffic isn’t going to be as bad as normal, you’ll be able to walk around San Francisco wearing a mask and enjoying the sights and sounds of my hometown. I admire where you’re stationed, it’s a beautiful locale where you are in San Francisco, so I hope that you enjoy your moment.

NP: I would like to meet your personally Ravi, it was nice having a chat with you.

RK: I look forward to that, we cannot wait to get over this virtual bubble and be able to meet people face to face once again.

NP: I look forward to your support in our journey. Thank you very much as always.

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