The rise and rise of Shalabh Kumar

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The Chicago businessman’s stock skyrockets in both Washington and New Delhi.

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Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishanker (second left) meeting with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (third from right) in mid-November. Also in the photo are Shalabh Kumar (second right) and Ambassador Navtej Sarna (left). Image via Facebook.

At the onset of Donald Trump’s America, Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar has become the most influential Indian American power broker.

The Chicago area businessman benefited big time from the New York billionaire’s surprise victory on November 8 owing to his status as one of the early investors in the mogul’s candidacy.

Kumar, the chairman and CEO of the electronics manufacturing firm VG Advanced Technologies, was the only major Indian American donor who made a significant campaign donation to Trump in the run-up to the presidential election. He contributed nearly $900,000 to the candidate at a time when few gave the Republican nominee any real chance in November and even the party’s traditional fundraisers stayed away from Trump.

On the Democratic side, some 30 Indian Americans bundled at least a $100,000 to the party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton.

And it is not surprising that the Amritsar-born Kumar’s stock has skyrocketed since the Election Day, both in the United States and India.

The 68-year-old is being wooed not just by those in the community seeking favors with the next administration, but by the Indian establishment as well.

Kumar’s fortunes began to ascend in mid-October when he and his Republican Hindu Coalition hosted a mega campaign rally in New Jersey where the main draw was The Donald himself. It was the first ever campaign event hosted by an Indian American group where a major party nominee actually showed up.

The event also attracted droves of Indian journalists, making Kumar an overnight celebrity in India.

It got even better for the Kildeer, Illinois, resident after Trump’s election — especially in New Delhi, where he was in big demand both in the media and on the corridors of power.

“They are the father and daughter with a direct line to Donald Trump!” That’s how popular NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt introduced Kumar and his goddaughter Manasvi Mangai while they appeared on her show in New Delhi last week.

Grapevine has it that the government of India has actively courted Kumar, a member of the president-elect’s transition finance and inauguration teams, to gain access to and liaison with the Trump Tower. He has already made two trips to India since November, according to news reports.

The Embassy of India in Washington also seems to have recognized his value after the elections.

There are indications that the businessman has helped top visiting Indian officials obtain at least two meetings with leading Trump aides. Soon after the election, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence during an unannounced visit to this country. Last month, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with NSA-designate Michael Flynn.

In photographs circulating on social media, Kumar is seen meeting with Jaishankar and Newt Gingrich, a former House Speaker and a key Trump surrogate during the campaign. Gingrich is also the honorary chairman of the Republican Hindu Coalition.

On January 5, Kumar made a cameo appearance in Washington to attend a farewell party hosted by the Indian Ambassador to the United States Navtej Sarna at his Cleveland Park mansion for the outgoing Deputy Chief of Mission Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

In his brief speech, a video of which was seen by The American Bazaar, Kumar praised Sandhu, who is leaving for Colombo to take charge as the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. “I appreciate all the work he has done for enhancing the US-India relations,” the businessman said of the diplomat.

The RHC leader referred to a meeting Sandhu attended in Chicago where Chairman of the House Committee on Rules Pete Sessions was present. “In a way, you broke the protocol,” Kumar said, without explaining much.

He also persuaded Sandhu to stay in Washington till the Trump inauguration. “I have been trying so hard to not have him leave — at least till the 20th. Now we are going to work without you.”

He quickly went on to add: “For the inauguration you have to be there. I am still trying to convince him. Just 10 days… The world is not going to fall apart.”

Kumar launched the Republican Hindu Coalition in November 2015, with the goal of donating $2 million to Republican candidates. It’s not known whether the group had given that much money to GOP candidates. But he did contribute close to half of that amount to the Trump campaign.

Now having established himself as a power broker in Indian American politics between the Trump victory and inauguration, the question doing rounds in Washington is whether he will have any formal roles in the next administration.