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Indian envoy hosts newly elected US lawmakers

By Aziz Haniffa
February 15, 2013 12:09 IST
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At an elegant reception hosted at her residence on February 14, to felicitate the newly minted United States lawmakers -- Dr Ami Bera and Tulsi Gabbard – Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao predicted that ‘the presence of Ami Bera and Tulsi Gabbard in the US Congress, brings great meaning to our mission and our task of taking US-India relations further forward to greater and greater heights’.

She said, “Throughout their lives, they have been touched by the spirit of India and by the message of great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi who personified the spirit of selfless service in the cause of freedom and democracy.”

Rao declared that Bera and Gabbard -- the first Indian  American physician and only the third Indian American and Gabbard, the first ever Hindu American to be elected to the US House of Representatives, would, “I am sure, inspire many more young people, both Indian American and other Americans, to scale great heights of achievement for their country.”

Addressing an audience of over 100 guests, who included Indian American community leaders, senior administration officials such as Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and US Congressman, Mike Honda, the godfather of Asian American lawmakers, whom she described as ‘a close friend of India and Indian Americans’, who represents ‘Silicon Valley of California’, the ambassador said, “This is indeed a very special occasion.”

Rao said, “Over the years, the US Congress has certainly played a stellar and defining role in enhancing the spirit and substance of the US-India strategic partnership.”

She pointed out that the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans ‘is the largest country caucus in both Houses of Congress’, and noted, “That is certainly a compelling measure of the importance of the US-India relationship, and the role that the Indian American community numbering over three million plays in furthering the cause of friendship between our two democracies.”

Rao added, “Today is also special in a very significant way,” because it was an occasion to embrace and welcome Bera and Gabbard ‘both of whose lives have been linked to India and influenced by India in a truly special manner’.

She said Bera’s ‘story is truly inspiring and epitomises the American Dream,” and said as a “physician by profession, he has walked every inch of the path of selfless community service in his native state of California, in his career as a doctor and educationist’.

“He has fought an election campaign for a Congressional seat successfully in a vindication of the democratic ideals that this country and indeed we in India, stand for,” she said.

Gabbard, who represents Hawaii, Rao said, “Is a role model for young women not only in this country, but also I have no doubt in India, too.”

She then noted to chuckles from the gathering that ‘in our tradition in India, the word Tulsi or Tulasi, as we say in South India, is an important symbol since it is the plant, the holy basil, that the Hindus worship at morn and at dusk’.

“Most of our homes have a Tulsi plant in our courtyard. It is also a plant of considerable medicinal significance. Tulsi, therefore has great meaning in our tradition.”

Rao said, “I believe that now the US Congress is blessed to have Tulsi as a member of the House.”

Bera, in his remarks, spoke of how his story really begins with that of his parents immigrating to the US in the fifties and the sacrifices they made for their children and trailblazers such as Dalip Singh Saund, the first Indian American elected to the US Congress in the mid-50s.

He also reiterated a regular theme that he never fails to mention at community events, about a perennial question he’s asked if being Indian American made it difficult for him to be elected. “I think I am absolutely in Congress today because I am Indian American.”

Bera said that now that ‘the door’s open’, it was his obligation to reach out to the younger generation and be catalytic in their quest to serve.

“Because when I look at the talent in the Indian American community, the folks that are in this room, the folks that I see working in the administration, on Capitol Hill, and the folks that haven’t event graduated from high school or college yet, but are dreaming, it’s not enough that the two of us have gotten elected,” she said.

“It’s now about building that capital for the next generation,” he said, and said to loud applause that ‘we are celebrating our election to the Congress, but I like to be invited back here when we are celebrating several members of Congress. I like to come back to this residence when we are celebrating a senate election’, and ultimately an Indian American president.

Gabbard, in thanking Rao profusely for felicitating them, ‘and bringing all of us together on such a special night’, said, “I never would have imagined that I would be lucky to spend my Valentine’s Day not with one special person, but so many special people.”

“And for all of you, being willing to share this special night with us, happy Valentine’s Day to all of you.”

Echoing Bera’s sentiments, Gabbard said, “Today we honor not just the journey of a physician from California or a combat veteran from Hawaii-but rather the selfless service of those who came before us, and paved the road of possibility.” 

”Today we honor the-- the fight for fairness not just in our nation's capital-- but on the front lines of combat around the world. And today we honor the record number of Indian Americans, bound by a common purpose of service, working in the Obama administration,” she said.  
Speaking to the burgeoning US-India strategic partnership, Gabbard said, “As global partners, this is the leadership that the United States and India can offer in the 21st century. But as the world's two largest democracies, we must never forget that the price of our own freedom also means standing up for the freedom of others.”

”That means we must do even more to empower women, and educate girls. It means we must have an honest dialogue about combating violence,” she said. 

Gabbard argued that “at the end of the day, what will ultimately enrich us-what will ultimately ensure that our values of inclusion adapt to the ever-evolving global landscape-are not just traditional notions of hard power, or soft power, but rather what Secretary Clinton has often called a 21st century smart power.”

“A pillar of empowerment that ensures no matter who you are, or where you come from-whether Kauai or Kerala, Maui or Mumbai-every person gets the same chance to live in security and dignity, to get an education, to find work, and contribute to their societies for a better tomorrow.”

Gabbard said, “Because even as we celebrate our rich and unique histories, when we recognise our common humanity, then we can begin to fulfill these aspirations that we share.”

“It's the very essence of oneness that inspires our Hindu faith -- and it's the very essence of service that has made all of our stories possible,” she added.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC