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Ambassador Nirupama Rao's historic first -- addresses oldest legislature in US

March 28, 2013 12:02 IST

Indian envoy to the United States Nirupama Rao scripts history by becoming the first ambasador to address a US state   legislature. The Maryland house of delegates, which she addressed on Wednesday, was the first to be set up in the US, and predates even the Capitol in Washington, DC. Aziz Haniffa reports

Indian Ambassador to the United States Nirupama Rao on Wednesday addressed the American state of Maryland’s House of Delegates in Annapolis, which has three Indian American legislators, including Majority Leader Kumar Barve -- the longest serving Indian American legislator -- and delegates Sam Arora and Aruna Miller.

This was perhaps the first time an Indian ambassador had addressed a state legislature in the United States, and Arora was the catalyst behind the Maryland general assembly’s invitation to Rao to speak at the first legislature set up in the United States with its rich history, predating the Capitol in Washington, DC.

It was in the building of the State House that then General George Washington resigned from his commission of the continental army to become the first President of the United States.

After being received by House Speaker Michael Busch, Barve, Arora and Miller, and introduced to the other delegates, Rao, at the outset, said, “It is truly an honour and a tremendous privilege to address the Maryland House of Delegates,” which she described as “a temple of democracy.”

“I realise what a unique opportunity this is, for me personally, and for my country, to be able to address representatives of the people of Maryland, a state that has been called ‘America in miniature',” she said.

Rao said, “I see the diversity of America as I look around this hall. Your diversity reminds me of my own country which is a mosaic of plurality, a true and living example of unity in diversity,” and then went on to shower kudos on the contributions of Indian Americans in the state.

“I am proud particularly to recognise the role the Indian American community has played in advancing the progress and well-being of your great country. They epitomise strong family values, educational excellence, creativity, innovation, high standards of professionalism, and dedication to your core democratic principles and traditions.”

She said, “Maryland’s Sam Arora, Kumar Barve, Rajan Natarajan, and Aruna Miller are all proud Americans who are also proud of their Indian heritage. They play a very important role in bringing our two countries together. They are the bridge-builders of friendship between India and Maryland particularly.”

Natarajan is deputy secretary of state for external affairs in the Maryland government headed by Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley, and is the highest-ranking Indian American in the state administration.

Rao said, “The living, pulsating heart of this relationship is within the people of both our democracies -- countless men and women like you who inhabit this country, and the myriad inhabitants of India. This is a relationship that makes a difference for the lives of our people -- in development, in the fight against terrorism, in keeping the Pacific and Indian Oceans safe from the threat of piracy and non-state actors, enabling trade and commerce, in research, innovation in new forms of energy, in science and technology, agriculture, and in space cooperation.”

“Today, a new dimension is being added to this relationship. These are the ties between states in your country and states in ours. Maryland has been one of the pioneers in this regard and we admire and are completely supportive of the initiatives you have taken in this regard,” she said.

Rao then referred to O’Malley’s six-day visit to India in November 2011, which she noted, “produced significant results with nearly $60 million in business deals for Maryland companies, and sending, as the governor said, ‘a strong message to India’s top business organisations and companies that Maryland is the gateway to doing business in the US’”. 

“I hope in the future ahead of us, Maryland will build stronger and stronger ties with states in India, that are good for businesses in both our countries, in manufacturing, in services, in education, in research and technological innovation. That future is what we must aspire to. That promise is what we must see fulfilled,” she said.

In the state senate, Ambassador Rao was introduced by Senator Jim Rosapepe, who described her as the envoy of the world’s largest democracy. In her remarks from the senate podium, Rao expressed her deep appreciation to the senators for the welcome extended to her and spoke of India-US partnership as an indispensable part of India’s efforts to educate and empower its youth.

Immediately on her arrival at the state Capitol steps, Rao interacted with and addressed the student pages of the House of Delegates and answered their questions. She then subsequently met with the Speaker Busch, and then proceeded to the House floor, where she was introduced by Arora, who spoke of how “she was exceedingly supportive of the delegation of over 100 people we sent from Maryland to India in 2011 to forge stronger economic ties between the state and India.”

“That trip, which Delegate Barve, Delegate Miller, Governor O’Malley, and I went on won over $60 million in deals for Maryland companies.”

And, then, to a standing ovation as Rao approached the podium to speak, Arora said, “She is a friend of mine, a friend of the United States, and a friend of Maryland.”

When she finished her remarks, several delegates came to meet with her and introduce themselves so much so that she had to step outside the floor to meet with each one of them.

She was then invited to address the state senate too, which she was not scheduled to speak at but was persuaded to do so by some Senators and then introduced on the floor by Rosapepe.

Image: Ambassador Nirupama Rao with Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (extreme right). Others in the picture (from left to right) are Delegate Sam Arora, Majority Leader Kumar Barwe and Delegate Aruna Miller.

Aziz Haniffa in Maryland