On her last day as India’s envoy to the United States, Ambassador Nirupama Rao was felicitated by the Barck Obama administration at the State Department on Monday, with US Secretary of State John F Kerry thanking her for her service toward furthering the strategic partnership between the two nations.
At an elegant reception at the State Department in Washington, DC by Acting Chief of Protocol Natalie Jones, which was attended by several ambassadors representing South and Southeast Asia and senior US diplomats, Kerry in a statement said, “Dear Madam Ambassador, on behalf of the American people and the Obama administration, I extend my best wishes as your tenure as ambassador of the Republic of India to the United States of America comes to a close.”
“I thank you for your service and am deeply grateful to you for helping strengthen the important partnership between our two countries,” Kerry added.
Ambassador Richard Hoagland, recently appointed principal deputy assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs, told Rao, “With your departure, we lose one of India’s most exceptional diplomats and a close friend of the United States.”
He added, “We don’t lose you, we will always stay in close contact and you will always be in our hearts as, I hope, many of your friends here will remain in yours.’
Hoagland observed that after returning to Washington after more than a decade overseas on various assignments, “what has struck me the most is the profound transformation in US-India ties,” and added, “The relationship is scarcely recognisable from what it was 10 years ago -- the last time I worked in Washington.”
“This transformation in our relations would not have been possible without leaders like you Madam Ambassador, first as foreign secretary of India and then as India’s envoy to the United States,” he said. “You have been a tireless champion of the US-India strategic partnership.”
Hoagland noted that “during Ambassador Rao’s two-year tenure in Washington, our bilateral relationship has reached new heights. As ambassador, she oversaw dozens of engagements and visits …two strategic dialogues, Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to India and most recently the visit of Prime Minister Singh to Washington.”
Hoagland declared, Rao’s “leadership and strategic vision was instrumental in ensuring the success of every one of these.”
He paid special tribute to “Ambassador Rao’s commitment to strengthening education cooperation and people to people ties. She has recognised the strong ties between the people of India and the United States are the real drivers behind the relationship.”
Hoagland also predicted that “the new Indian embassy cultural centre will be an enduring testament,” to Rao’s efforts, with the government of India purchasing a building in downtown Washington, DC for $5.7 million to house this centre.
“Ambassador Rao has genuine love for this country and its people and during her tenure she visited more than half the states in the union and gave countless talks at universities and town halls,” he said. “I feel that many of the qualities she found here of optimism, individualism, entrepreneurship, are common to both Indians and Americans.”
Saying that India and the United States ‘have a deep and lasting bilateral relationship,’ Hoagland said, “Ambassador Rao’s own vast familiarity with our country is a reflection of that friendship.”
While wishing Rao all the best in her future endeavors, he told the departing ambassador, “You know, you are welcome back in Washington at any time, in any capacity.”
Rao, in her remarks, obviously moved by this unprecedented farewell reception in her honour at the State Department, which followed a series of farewells last week by the Indian American community, the US-India Business Council, among several others, said that from the first time she visited the United States exactly three decades ago in the autumn of 1983, “it seems that I have been drawn to this country ever so often throughout my career,” that spanned 40 years.
“It has left a deep impression on me as a person and also I have learnt so much from my American friends and I have been touched and impressed by the sense of hope I see in this country,” she said.
“The can-do spirit and the ability to accommodate, the ability to allow talent to flower, for personalities to come into their own,” Rao added.
Rao said, “All these are qualities that make America a great country,” and argued the fact that both India and the US are democracies, “that makes for a very natural and very spontaneous relationship between our two countries because there are shared values, there are shared interests and there are shared concerns.”
She asserted that in the final analysis, the “people are at the heart of this relationship -- they form the core, they form the living soul as it were in the relationship between our two countries.”
Rao said that “the people of India who have come to the United States and made it their home -- three million of them, Indian Americans, visible in every walk of American life today -- they have brought the message of India to this country and made India much more comprehensible and much more visible here in America.”
“And that is what has changed this relationship visibly from the time I was here in the early days,” she said.
Rao argued that the India-US relationship was “not just a theoretical construct, it’s not just an abstraction, it has a living soul and a beating heart to it.”
While acknowledging that she would definitely miss her diplomatic life, she told the distinguished audience, “In India, you have a country that is extremely well disposed toward the United States and sees the United States as a friend and as a true partner.”
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