Bobby Kumar Kalotee, Chairman Reform Party, is the first Indian American ever to be elected to head a political party in the USA at the national level. He spoke with INDIA EMPIRE Editor Sayantan Chakravarty
EMPIRE: You’ve had a miraculous rise in American politics. Take us through it…
BOBBY KUMAR: Well, I was a Vice Chairman of the Republican Party in 1982 and continued to be so till the year 2000 (Nassau County, NY). I was actively involved in the campaigns of NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, NY Governor George Pataki, Senator (and now Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton, and several others. The Reform Party was started by Ross Perot in 1992, when he ran for President. That year he won nearly 20 per cent of the popular votes at the general elections. Another few votes would have made him the President of the USA. The Reform Party today is America’s third major political party.
EMPIRE: Will you now focus in a major way on the Indian community to further your prospects?
BOBBY KUMAR: I am not elected to represent Indians, I’m elected to serve regardless of where people have come from, I’m elected to represent Americans. Having said so, let me add that I’m proud to note that the Indian community in the USA today is very vibrant, successful in business, and has a strong presence in America’s social and cultural milieu. And all this has happened in a short span of time since the Indians came relatively recently to America. In fact, not just within the USA, you’ll find that the people of Indian descent, regardless of where they are settled in the world from South America to South East Asia, and in Europe and Africa have done very well, are hardworking and have contributed much to their adopted countries.
EMPIRE: Will you be like the next Bobby Jindal of American politics, the next big thing in the Indian community?
BOBBY KUMAR: I will not become Bobby Jindal, but I’ll create many Bobby Jindals, believe me that can happen because there is so much talent around.
EMPIRE: Do you see Bobby Jindal as the next President of America, an Indian American president?
BOBBY KUMAR: Please allow me to look at what you just put to me in another way. We’ll have an American as President, he could be from Indian descent. Yes, Bobby Jindal has been right up there during conversations on the leadership front. But I wouldn’t like to categorize any leader, as black or white, Indian or non-Indian, educated or not so educated. The man who wants to lead America will end up leading America.
EMPIRE: The Reform Party is another national political party in America. Is America really ready for another such party?
BOBBY KUMAR: It is good, isn’t it? It gives you guys in the Media so much more to talk about, there is so much more excitement when there are more men in the fray. You have more content for your story. It also allows people to have more options in terms of who to go with.
EMPIRE: How do you want to take America forward? I believe, and this I say on behalf of my party, that there should be a small Government, lobbyists should only lobby, not for corporations, but for issues and for the people of America. I’m not for a complicated tax structure either.
EMPIRE: But sometimes lobbying is required to raise funds, apart from getting votes?
BOBBY KUMAR: I don’t fund campaigns, I allow my candidates to raise funds. My job is to provide people access to politics and to let their messages be carried to the public in the right way.
EMPIRE: Now Ross Perot was a brilliant billionaire businessman who chose to start the Reform Party. Do you believe that your party should field candidates who have money power?
BOBBY KUMAR: Ross had his own money, it helped. Having said that, let me say that we are for those candidates who are Americans first, and carry the American dream in their hearts, and carry the people of America with them. We want people who believe in our ideology of providing good, clean alternative leadership to the masses. We want candidates who are ready to take up leadership roles, money or the lack of it will not stop us from fielding the right candidates.
EMPIRE: Bobby, I understand that you’ve had little formal education, and yet you run what is today the third largest national political party in the USA. Has attitude determined your altitude?
BOBBY KUMAR: Let me tell you that the whole world has been my canvas for learning. I’ve learnt by living on the streets and slums, I’ve learned from neighbours who have been wonderful. I have learnt that you must agree to sometimes disagree, and yet can move forward. You do not need formal education for this. I’m still learning every day, I try and learn from the wealth of intellectual and cultural talent around me. If there are obstacles in my path, I take them as opportunities to learn and move forward. Obstacles are not excuses for slowing down.
EMPIRE: You did mention that you lived in the streets. What was life like then?
BOBBY KUMAR: I am a boy from a small village in Punjab. A village that had no electricity, no sewer system, no TV set, and sometimes no food. But I missed nothing, and life was not difficult. Because I had great parents, wonderful neighbours, good society. I learned a lot from that society, and I learnt that people are caring and can turn difficult times into opportunities. If I felt inconvenienced, I did not complain, I just saw an opportunity to overcome and create a better tomorrow.
EMPIRE: Your family life…
BOBBY KUMAR: My father was in the British Army, and then in the Indian Army, in the medical field. I don’t know too much about that time, he was mostly away. I have four siblings, all older than I. Most of my cousins joined the Indian Army and Navy, to serve the motherland. My mother passed away two years ago.
EMPIRE: And then you decided to move out of India…
BOBBY KUMAR: Yes, I was very young, and spoke only Hindi and Punjabi. The first foreign language I spoke was not English, but Greek. I arrived in the USA at the age of 21, with a clear inability to speak any English. I have polished shoes, sold balloons, carried luggage, washed dishes, been a bus boy. I regret nothing. Those moments, and those jobs were as wonderful as being the chairman of the third largest national political party of America. To me, the job I appreciate the most is that of being a good friend, and being a nice human being.
EMPIRE: Are you saying that titles mean very little to you?
BOBBY KUMAR: Yes, absolutely. Titles in professions come and go, in the end they mean very little. What remains with you are the badges that you wear, the badge of a son, a brother, a friend, and a human being. And there is nothing greater than humility, and this I learnt while growing up. I do not look at my beginnings as being humble, but only that I was exposed to being humble early on in life. I found arrogance has no place, and pride is disaster. There is nothing smaller than being arrogant. My advice to those around me has been to try humbleness, it has much more power than arrogance, just as peace has more power than war, and agreement has more power over disagreement. Each day is a lesson in humility and humbleness for me. I am grateful for each and every moment life has granted me. I want to serve man with love, respect and in humility. There are so many Bobby-s out there, I want to be on that street where they are. They can be better than me.
EMPIRE: So you are committed to peace, not war. Do you want to set up a peace foundation?
BOBBY KUMAR: Peace must always win. Peace is a wonderful idea to begin with in any life. It’s a good idea, that of a peace foundation, and I’ll take it up seriously. Peace must prevail, and democracy must exist. They allow free minds to do wonders in this world, and prevent intellectual minds from being suppressed. The atom bomb or the despotic rule of Idi Amin is not the way forward in this world. History has more respect for Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King than for Adolf Hitler. We should follow examples of peace, not those set by wars. War and turmoil must end.
EMPIRE: So your party is against the wars America is fighting…
BOBBY KUMAR: I feel that way, and then the party must also decide. I leave it to the party. Let me add that we have a new President, and he is trying to do his best under the given circumstances. I like what President Obama said during the transition, before he took office, America must have one President at a time. Our party and America supports our President.