Honour to travel with US President on Air Force One: Ami Bera

Washington: Excited by the prospect of travelling with the US President on Air Force One, Indian American Congressman Ami Bera feels honoured to have been invited by Barack Obama to join him on his historic trip to India.

"It's an honour. In many ways my story is the story of the Indian American diaspora," Bera, the two term Democratic Congressman from California, told PTI in an interview. The only Indian American elected representative in the current Congress, Bera is among the four US lawmakers to be invited by Obama to join him on the presidential aircraft to travel to India.

The others are Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Senator Mark Warner, co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, and Congressman Joe Crowley, a longtime friend of India in the Congress.

Bera said he is excited about the journey with none other than the President to the land of his parents. "With my parents immigrating here from Gujarat in the 1950s, having me born and raised in America, benefiting from the best that the US offers, the opportunity and now as member of the Congress to return with the President of the United States as we renew this focus on the US-India relationship, I think this is historic from that perspective," he said. He is also the Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

"All signs (of US-India relations) point in the right direction," said Bera who was in India last year and had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his US visit in September. "I think that the September trip was a rousing success. It is clear that the President and the Prime Minister developed a very positive relationship.

"It's historic for the Prime Minister to invite the President as the chief guest for the Republic Day and that he is the first president to make two trips to India," said Bera, who has been a strong advocate of India-US ties both inside and outside Congress.

Bera said there are some common areas between the two countries. "The Prime Minister has talked about increasing renewable energy. President Obama's administration has a real focus on addressing renewable energy and climate change. I think there is a common interest there," he said.

"The Prime Minister has an ambitious infrastructure agenda in modernising India's infrastructure. Clearly for the US companies there is an interest there. In the technology space there is real opportunities for India and the US to work closely together," Bera said.

"In defence, it looks like there are opportunities there. And then we both have strategic interests. India really has a role in stabilising South Asia and more broadly Asia. Some of the tensions in South China Sea, India is a strong partner in stabilising that region. So there are many areas where we can work together," he said.

As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Bera said his focus would be in organising the Indian American diaspora.

"We have done so well in the United States, it is now an opportunity for us to organise, contribute back to the United States and then also move this relationship forward as well. I think, the President recognises the importance of the Indian American diaspora and certainly the Prime Minister recognises that," he said.

As a Gujarati American, Bera said he is proud of Modi's accomplishments. "He was a very strong leader in Gujarat, building the economic foundation of the state. He was elected with an overwhelming mandate with clearly a focus on moving India forward," he said, adding that the US business community is optimistic on the prime minister's agenda as well given his history in Gujarat.

Observing that there is real optimism among Indian Americans about India under Modi, Bera said this is a chance to realise the true potential of India-US relationship.

"There is an excitement in the Indian American community," he said. Responding to a question, Bera said it is in the interest of both India and the US to create stability in Pakistan. This can be done through economic growth and trade. It is an area where there is alignment of interest of India and the US, he said.

"India really does has a role in stabilising South Asia. It is certainly in the interest of the United States," he said.

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