Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s itinerary for his June 21-24 US visit could include an address to a fledgling business advocacy group, the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). Interestingly, the PM’s team has picked the USISPF, founded six years back, over the much older and established US-India Business Council (USIBC), for his address to the American business community on US soil.
According to sources in New Delhi privy to the minutiae of the PM’s US itinerary, Modi’s address to the business advocacy group founded in August 2017 was in the works. If there is no change in plan, the PM addressing its members would mark the growing influence of the USISPF. Sources said the choice of the USISPF would also indicate New Delhi’s lack of synergy with the current leadership of the USIBC. The PM’s address to the USISPF could take place at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center on June 23, they said.
Business Standard reached out to president and chief executive officer of the USISPF, Mukesh Aghi, for details of the June 23 event. His response was awaited. The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said he was not in a position to comment on the PM’s engagements in the US.
On its website, the USISPF has External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra, former undersecretary of defence for policy in the Trump administration John Rood, and former ambassador to India Richard Varma as its ‘board members emeritus’. Its board of directors includes Chairman Emeritus of Cisco John Chambers, General Atlantic Vice Chairman Ajay Banga, ITC Managing Director Sanjiv Puri, and others. Former PepsiCo chairman Indra Nooyi and professor Arvind Panagariya are listed as advisors to the board.
The US Chamber of Commerce formed the USIBC at the request of the then secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, in 1975. In July 2017, the US Chamber of Commerce fired Aghi, who was then the president of the USIBC, alleging that he was not reporting to it. The board of the USIBC, including Banga, Nooyi, and Chambers, unanimously voted 29-0 to separate from the US Chambers of Commerce, accusing it of undue interference in its work, a report in The Washington Post said.
The US Chamber of Commerce shot back, pointing out that the USIBC had no authorisation to part ways from its parent organisation, which is when Aghi founded the USISPF. Arun Jaitley, the then finance minister, launched the USISPF in August 2017, and most USIBC board members joined the USISPF.
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As the senior vice-president for the International Strategy and Global Initiatives at the US Chamber of Commerce, Nisha Biswal oversees the USIBC and the US Bangladesh Business Council. She was the president of the USIBC between October 2017 and January 2022. On Friday, Biswal’s successor at the USIBC, its president Atul Keshap, told PTI that the group would host a “wedding mela” on the eve of Modi’s US visit. The event will be held at the US Chamber of Commerce and bring American and Indian start-up enterprises in the defence space together.
The Pentagon said Modi’s visit would mark some “really big, historic and exciting” announcements on defence cooperation. According to PTI, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner said during a panel discussion in the US that the visit “will be looked back upon similarly to how the Japan two plus two earlier this year was a pivotal moment in the relationship. People will be looking back on this visit by Prime Minister Modi as a real springboard for the US-India relationship”, he said.
The PM will begin his visit from New York and attend the International Yoga Day celebrations at the UN on June 21. He will address the Joint Session of the US Congress in Washington, DC. The PM will address the Indian diaspora on June 23 and likely the USISPF on the same day.