Dilip Chauhan: A Rising Star in the American South Asian Indian Community

December 10, 2014 6:10 am Last Updated: December 9, 2014 10:10 pm

When the Prime Minister of India Nerendra Modi attended a Sunday afternoon reception held in his honor at New York City’s Madison Square Garden this past Sept. 28, he was treated with what some in the media described as “rock star status.” Speaking in his native language of Hindi about India, with a billion and a quarter inhabitants the largest democracy in the world, Modi, said to the audience of approximately 20,000, “In India democracy is not just a system it’s a faith. It’s a belief.”

After he spoke those two short sentences, many of these 20,000 attendees, both young and old, male and female and mainly, but not all, of South Asian Indian background, broke into chants of “Modi, Modi. Modi.” These chants were reported to have been constantly repeated throughout the 60 minutes that Modi, making his first visit to America since his election as prime minister this past May, spoke.

Sitting in the front rows of that crowded stadium that night was a 43-year-old man named Dilip Chauhan. Because in the New York South Asian Indian American community Chauhan’s face is known to be not nearly as identifiable as is his name, he remained, I later learned, incognito that night.

But it would come as no surprise to either those who personally know Chauhan, the president of the politically powerful national Not Residing in India (NRI) Overseas Affair Organization, or those who just know him by his name and title, that many of the prominent elected officials whom they could see seated in the Garden that night, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.); U.S. congressional representatives from New York Democrats Joseph Crowley, Gregory Meeks, and Grace Meng; and, most notably, South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, seen as a possible presidential contender in 2016, had come either directly or indirectly through Chauhan’s outreach and invitation.

However, when I interviewed Chauhan last week, he quickly downplayed this feat. “Not one of these elected officials came because of me. Once they were informed that the prime minister was to be celebrated and honored, they all wanted to join in the celebration of this great man.”

What Chauhan did not downplay was his and his family’s longtime relationship with Prime Minister Modi. Chauhan, who was born in India and moved to the United States when he was 28, explained: “My parents, one sister, and five brothers and I were neighbors of PM Modi for 15 years in Gandhinagar, India. He was a legislator then, and we got to know him quite well. He was a brilliant but humble man. My family still lives in the community in India and continues to be in contact with him.”

India’s Reagan

Nor did Chauhan try to downplay his support of Modi’s conservative economic policies, which he likened to those of Republican President Reagan.

“Prime Minister Modi is to India today what President Ronald Reagan was to America 30 years ago,” Modi contended. “Prime Minister Modi like President Reagan understands that people, not government, create wealth. In [Modi’s] first six months in office, he has already started to implement policies that remove the disincentives and shackles that previous governments have placed on the backs of entrepreneurs and business pioneers, which now enables them to produce greater amounts of good and services, which, as we learned from President Reagan, leads to the creation of large numbers of private sector jobs.”

However, while Chauhan extolled the conservative policies of Reagan in America in the 1980’s and those of Modi in India today, he made it a point to inform me that NRI, which plays an active role in national American politics, has endorsed and supported both Democratic and Republican candidates in the past.

“NRI looks to support candidates, be they Democrats or Republicans, who possess great personal integrity and whose policies will benefit all the people they represent. In addition as a South Asian Indian organization, we look to support candidates regardless of their party affiliation who possess a deep understanding of the makeup and the needs of the South Asian Indian community.”

Citing data revealing the national composition of that community, Chauhan continued, “There are approximately four million South Asian Indians living in America today. In statistical terms, we [compose] 17 percent of the Asian American community, making us the third largest Asian ethnic group in the United States, behind only Chinese-Americans and Filipino-Americans. From this South Asian India community, we have 120,000 doctors. … We also have in the range of half of a million owners of small or large businesses. Included in the ranks of those entrepreneurs are about 200,000 who own hotels and motels and approximately 80,000 who run and operate convenience stores. Together these doctors and small and large businessmen and women employ approximately four million American workers.”

Family and Faith

Chauhan told me that he feels a good deal of the success that South Asian Indian-Americans have achieved in America can be attributed to the important role family plays in their lives. Chauhan, who resides in Nassau County, N.Y., with his wife, Ruchika, and two daughters, Riddhi, 6, and Kahini, 15, explained: “The family unit is most important in the South Asian community. Divorce is rare, and it is common to see grandfathers and grandmothers sharing homes with their children and grandchildren, or if health and finances allow, living in homes nearby. … Each member of the family unit gains understanding and strength from the other, which has played a large part in the success South Asians have obtained in America.”

Chauhan explained that he believes that the Hindu religion, which is practiced by the overwhelming majority of South Asian Indians living in India, America, and other nations around the world, complements the family lives of South Asian Indian-Americans. “You see families—children, parents, grandparents, and sometimes great grandparents—together in temple,” Chauhan stated. “They go there with the common purpose of meditating and praying and learning how they as individuals and as part of a family unit can best provide understanding, compassion, and help to their fellow human beings.”

Chauhan, who is a close friend and disciple of Pramukh Swami Maharaji, an internationally known Indian Hindu religious leader possessing a significant global following, added, “Hinduism’s teaching of respect for all other religions has helped South Asian Indian immigrants assimilate into the culture of America. Adhering to this teaching has made us respectful and accepting of our fellow Americans of all religions and creeds and has helped make them respectful and accepting of us.”

Chauhan, a business development consultant who specializes in creating marketing strategies for large and small U.S. and international corporations seeking to establish markets in the northeastern South Asian communities, told me that he loves what he does for a living because it gives him the opportunity to help entrepreneurs create goods and services and jobs for people.

“I consider myself to be a blessed man,” he said, “to be able to make a living doing what I most enjoy doing, which is simply to help people achieve the American dream.”

Robert Golomb is a nationally published columnist. Mail him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RobertGolomb

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