A coalition of community organisations in the Washington, DC metropolitan area accorded a rousing farewell to the deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy, Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal, who will now take charge as India's new ambassador to Turkey.
Speakers praised him for his catalytic role in helping to move the United States-India civilian nuclear deal agreement, and hoped he would return as India's ambassador to the US.
Jassal's wife Dr Smita Tiwari Jassal, who was adjunct professor at the University of Maryland and lectured occasionally at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, received her share of encomiums, with speakers calling her the pride and joy of her native state in India, Uttar Pradesh.
Community activist Om Sharma, who organised the farewell at the Tandoor Restaurant in Vienna, Virginia, said in his welcoming remarks that Jassal, an erstwhile Indian external affairs ministry spokesman and former ambassador to Israel, had 'always made himself available whenever the Indian community needed him.' Sharma spoke of how 'Mrs Jassal has made her mark on the community in her own way. The Jassals may be leaving for Turkey and we will miss them, but they will always be with us in our hearts and minds.'
Satish Gupta, head of the India Cultural Coordination Committee, said Jassal was an outstanding diplomat extremely popular with the community. Gupta said he was 'proud to be associated with him [Jassal] in more than one way', the most significant being 'his graduating from St Xavier's in Delhi, wherein I had the unique privilege of interacting regularly with his principal, teachers and other mentors because at the time I happened to be managing the Syndicate Bank in the same school.'
'It is the early training and exposure to a nice environment in one's life that is a major factor which makes for a graceful citizen, and Ambassador Jassal's achievements in every field has made the nation and the community at large very proud of him,' Gupta said, predicting further laurels for Jassal and a speedy return as India's ambassador to the US.
John 'Sunny' Wycliffe recalled how Jassal had stepped in to arrange embassy premises for the reception the community had accorded visiting Indian Defence Minister A K Antony 'when we were faced with the problem of finding a place for this function.'
Satish Mishra spoke of how Jassal had graced the International Hindi Sammelan as chief guest, and at the end of the event hosted the participants and the international delegates to a reception at the embassy. Puneet Ahluwalia said Jassal was the 'best Rajput that India has sent to our country here.'
Kamala Edwards, a leading political activist in Maryland area and a close friend of the state's Governor Martin O'Malley, praised Jassal's strategic thinking, his willingness to help, and his leadership role in propelling the US-India nuclear deal through sequential hurdles.
Others who spoke at the event emceed by Har Swarup Singh, former Indian high commissioner to Maldives, included prominent activists Dr Vidyanand Singh, Kumar Singh, Walter Dawson, Dr Koshy Samuel, Dr Hema Prasad Yaghla, Satish Korpe and retired Colonel Yogendra Singh. The audience was also entertained with bhajans and songs by Veena Srivastava and Alka Batra.
Ahluwalia, a co-founder of Indians for McCain, made a political pitch, which prompted emcee Singh to give equal time to Democratic activist Yogendra Singh. Jassal started his speech by joking that 'it was morphing into a political campaign kind of event, but as a diplomat who is serving in this country, I didn't hear a word of what was said on that.'
Saying that he was touched by the felicitation, the remarks of the speakers and the floral tributes to his wife and himself, Jassal said he was gratified 'that all of you remembered all the great things that have happened in India-US relations in the last three-and-a-half years, and it has been a great privilege for me to have served as one of the team of Ambassador Ronen Sen, who led this wonderful effort in being part of a process that let this change take place.'
Jassal said, 'I am not a friend of the Indian community, I am part of it. So, therefore, what we have done is something that has been done together. Everyone has contributed his bit into making this wonderful metamorphosis that has taken place in India-US relations. We did our job, we played our role, and in your case, as Indian Americans, what we have achieved is part of this wonderful common endeavour.'
Jassal recalled the achievements in US-India relations in the past three-and-a-half years, from the Open Skies Treaty to the progress in defence ties, economic cooperation and investment to the civil nuclear initiative and everything in between, and said, 'The range is breath-taking. And this is because that it was time for this idea. Our prime minister quoted an old British writer who said nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. The prime minister said that in 2005 and indeed, that is exactly what has happened in India-US relations... You have seen a part of this phase, but this phase is going to continue, multiply, intensify.'
Jassal predicted that startling though the transformation in bilateral relations is, it paled in comparison to what is to come in the future, and said that wherever he was, he hoped to continue contributing to the further strengthening of these ties.
He quipped that the way speakers were making flattering references to Uttar Pradesh because of his wife, he and his embassy colleagues were feeling a bit left out. 'But it's alright. We will manage. But just remember, Punjab is one state whose name is "The Punjab",' he said, to peals of laughter.
He concluded by saying, 'Sixty used to be a time when people retire from active life. India, at 60, is coming into its own and as India grows and progresses and flowers and spreads the good message around the world, I think members of the Indian-American community will themselves bask in that glory as well, just as India gets a very good name from the excellent work that is done by our community and the great achievements that it has to its credit.'