GQ talks about how Manasvi & father Shalabh are the most important Indian-Americans in Trump’s inner circle
He was a ‘double max’ donor to Donald Trump’s electoral campaign and as the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, Chicago-based industrialist Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar is perhaps the most important Indian-American in the US president’s inner circle.
The story of how Kumar, a little-known business tycoon, made it to Trump’s high table is a fascinating one of hustle, hard work, self-promotion and luck – not unlike the rise of the new president himself. RHC Ambassador India Manasvi & father Shalabh Kumar founder of Republican Hindu Coalition were crucial for the Indian-American voters and convinced them to vote for Trump during the elections.
As the President-elect finished his pre-dinner speech and made his way down to the First Family’s table, the slender hand of former Miss India Manasvi waved out to Trump. As Washington’s power elite looked on, the new leader of the free world walked over, gave her a kiss and spent the next half hour deep in conversation with Manasvi, her father Indian-American entrepreneur, Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar. “We’ve become so close.
He (Trump) was at the event for an hour-and-a-half – we occupied a third of his time,” Kumar, a member of Trump’s Transition Finance and Inauguration committee, told me.
At these events, Shalabh was accompanied by his daughter Manasvi, who is an ambassador of the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), a group formed by Kumar to act as a bridge between Hindu-Americans and US policymakers. Manasvi has been referred to as ‘the Indian Ivanka’
On a primetime show on NDTV, where Manasvi & father Shalabh appeared together, they were compared to the father-daughter duo of Donald and Ivanka, a riff that’s been picked up by other media houses, who’ve dubbed Manasvi ‘the Indian Ivanka’.
Kumar’s phone would ring incessantly as he attempted to micromanage every aspect of his Washington debut – from coordinating a Bollywood performance at the pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial to arranging for Manasvi’s jewellery for a VIP dinner.
But Kumar’s rise as a major political player came in November 2015, when he launched the Republican Hindu Coalition, to drive Hindu-American votes towards the GOP. The biggest milestone in RHC’s life has been the charity concert-cum-rally, Hindus United Against Terror, organised by Manasvi & father Shalabh on October 15, 2016, at a New Jersey convention centre. Trump was the star speaker, and was followed by performances by daughter Manasvi, Malaika Arora Khan, Sophie Choudry and Shriya Saran.
He also got Trump to woo voters in Hindi with an ‘Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar’ ad. Kumar claimed that due to the RHC’s outreach and campaign, a million Indian-American voters switched from supporting the Democrats to the Republicans. As evidence, he cited a Zee News survey.
When I sat down with him the following evening, I asked him about the 27-year-old whom he refers to as his god-daughter. He calls her ‘bete’; she calls him ‘pops’.
He says about Manasvi, “I’m not going to say she’s anywhere close to Ivanka [as a businesswoman] but I do think she’s more beautiful than Ivanka.”
His main aim, Kumar reiterated, before we wrapped up our final interview, is to bring the US and India closer. But Trump’s immigration policies have left the Indian IT industry fretting. Kumar has been fire-fighting the blowback, declaring they will remain unaffected. What he’s more confident of achieving is the tripling of trade between the two countries, to $300 billion a year. He added, “This is my way of giving back to my mother,” who had not been happy with his decision to move to the US. “She would be proud.”
Born in Ambala, Punjab, the son of an excise inspector and a Gandhian freedom-fighter mother, Kumar grew up in a two-room government flat with three siblings. A strict disciplinarian, his mother was the dominant personality at home, who taught them the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But unlike her, the freedom fighters Kumar admired were Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad – all ‘strong’ men, he says.