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Trump, Modi have common bhakt

Top-donor Shalabh sets out to clear air about 'misunderstood' Donald

Charu Sudan Kasturi   |   Published 21.07.16, 12:00 AM

Kumar with Trump last Saturday; and Kumar with Modi on March 30, 2013. (Source: Kumar’s Facebook page and www.narendramodi.in)

New Delhi, July 20: An Indian American industrialist who led the lobbying campaign for the US to lift a visa ban on Narendra Modi before he became Prime Minister in 2014 has now emerged among the top donors to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, sharing some of his controversial views.

Shalabh Kumar, who Indian officials said was also responsible for bringing 50 US Congressmen and Congresswomen to Modi's September 2014 address at New York's Madison Square Garden, confirmed he has donated about $1.1 million to the Trump campaign.

Kumar, who is CEO of AVG Advanced Technologies, a conglomerate of electronic technology firms, said he had made the decision to back Trump financially after a meeting last Saturday at the Republican presidential nominee's home in the rich Long Island suburb of the Hamptons.

"I had a few questions regarding his positions on India, which he answered," Chicago-based Kumar told The Telegraph over the phone, before responding to a query on the potential for camaraderie between Trump and Modi. "Trump will be the most pro-India President since the birth of the US."

Kumar heads a non-profit body in the US called the Hindu Republican Coalition and is a registered Republican who has for years lobbied for America to cut off funding for Pakistan while seeking closer ties between Washington and New Delhi.

He insisted Trump was widely misunderstood and at times misquoted, especially over some of his more controversial proposals.

But Kumar accepted that he agreed with the real estate mogul's plan to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, and to screen and profile Muslims entering the US and those already in America.

"I would say profile them, and monitor mosques in the US," Kumar said.

"ISIS and al Qaida are forewarning us that they will send terrorists to the US among the migrants from Syria, but the Obama administration says they won't screen them. That's just ridiculous."

The wall with Mexico would be an "electronic one", Kumar said.

"It won't be like the Great Wall of China," he said.

Individual donors are allowed to contribute a maximum of $449,400 to a political campaign, so Kumar has made the transfers also in the names of others - like his wife.

He said he has committed $2 million of his money to Trump and for key races for Senate and House of Representatives posts that will also be decided this November.

In addition, he said, he has promised to convince the Indian community in the US to pitch in with $8 million for these contests.

Kumar's relationship with Modi became public when, in 2013, he coaxed a group of top US legislators - including former US presidential candidate Newt Gingrich - to visit Gandhinagar with him to meet the then Gujarat chief minister.

Over the preceding and following months, Kumar lobbied on Capitol Hill to build pressure on the US government to withdraw a visa ban it had enforced on Modi in 2005 following criticism over his handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots in which nearly 1,000 Muslims were killed.

"I was impressed by his ability to curb corruption, and was confident he was going to become Prime Minister," Kumar said. "We supported him and fought for the removal of the travel ban on him."

When Modi made the first of his - so far - four visits to the US as Prime Minister, Kumar was part of the group that worked to ensure a glitzy, rock star reception for him when he addressed the Indian community at Madison Square Garden.

But he also made sure that the event had the feel of an embrace from official America that had for years shunned Modi in public.

Kumar brought 30 representatives, 20 senators and one governor to Madison Square Garden, he confirmed to The Telegraph. They cheered Modi on as he walked on a stage erected specially for him.

At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, the party issued its platform - manifesto - that called India an "ally" and emphasised on deepening ties with New Delhi.

But Kumar's donations come at a time the Trump campaign is facing difficult questions about a key aide of its leader.

Paul Manafort, Trump's political strategist, was part of a lobbying firm that official records show accepted $700,000 from a Kashmiri-American non-profit that was later revealed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a front for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Trump, though, remains committed to ties with India, Kumar said, and told him that he was keen to work for an "Indo-American" century. "He scores 10/10 in my book," Kumar said. "He was a natural choice."

 



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