Indian-Americans in the Washington metropolitan area accorded visiting Indian Defence Minister A K Antony -- on his maiden visit to the United States on the invitation of Defence Secretary Robert Gates -- a rousing welcome on his arrival at the Washington Dulles International Airport on Sunday evening.
Dr Parthasarathy Pillai, a community icon in the Washington, DC area and erstwhile national president of the National Federation of Indian Associations; J John 'Sunny' Wycliffe, convener of the Indian National Congress Chapter in Washington, DC; Benoy Thomas, Lazarus Borge, Johnson Mylail, Joseph Thhttamadam, Krishna Banudha, Suresh Raj, and Vinson Palathingal were among those who received the Defence minister.
Pillai told rediff.com, "I have known Shri Antony for a long time and he is a dear friend and I visited him last when he was chief minister of Kerala. Shri Antony and I are from the same Chertala Taluk and legislative constituency," he added.
Pillai said, "He is one of the most honest politicians and a man of great integrity who lives a simple life in keeping with the true Gandhian ideology and philosophy."
"He is so unique in Indian politics and I admire and respect him and cherish our friendship," he said. "That is why we are so happy to see him and welcome him. We wish him all the very best in his maiden visit to the United States."
Pillai added, "On Monday, we will felicitate him with a reception in his honour. We expect over 150 people to attend from across the country."
"When Shri Antony was studying in Ernakulam, I was studying in Thiruvananthapuram and we were actively involved in the Students' Congress in the cityl and the Kerala Students' Congress in Ernakulam," recalled Wycliffe.
He was quick to add, "We welcomed him not as Keralites but as Indians and there were several people at the airport who hailed from other parts of India, which is a testament to his popularity."
"They were all thrilled to see him. He took the time to speak a few words and shake hands with everyone. I was the first to meet him when Ambassador Ronen Sen was escorting him from the VVIP lounge to the waiting area."
"I was so thrilled to see him because he's a great leader and has accomplished many great things for India and I am sure will accomplish even greater things for India, and I believe he will soon adorn the highest office in India. May God bless him!"
While inaugurating a seminar in New Delhi in August, Antony had said that his US visit was aimed at continuing the 'defence dialogue' between the two countries. However, India and US won't be signing any major agreements vis-à-vis military sales or defence contracts during Antony's visit.
"Actually, it is part of my return visit...I am going to the United States not to sign any agreement. It is part of the continuing defence dialogue between the US and India," he told reporters.
Antony said, "India has a cordial defence partnership with the United States. During his (Gates') visit and after that, he invited me to the United States. I accepted the invitation and I am going there."
Besides meeting Gates and being accorded an honour guard at the Pentagon, Antony is also slated to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and other senior Pentagon and State Department officials.
On September 10, he is scheduled to hold a press conference at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, DC, to brief reporters about his visit and meetings with the senior US officials.
Antony is accompanied by Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General V K Singh, Air Officer (Personnel) Air Marshal S Mukherjee, and Director General (Acquisitions) S K Sharma.