Colorful, vibrant, ebullient event highlights rich culture of Punjab
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, April 23, 2016 – The annual Baisakhi celebration at the Indian Embassy Residence is always a colorful, vibrant, ebullient event highlighting the rich culture of northern India, primarily the state of Punjab. This year was no exception as community activists, predominantly Indian-American Sikhs, attended a heart-warming function hosted by Ambassador Arun K. Singh and his wife Dr. Maina Chawla Singh.
The event afforded a great opportunity for community members to engage with officials of the Indian diplomatic mission here!
In his welcome remarks on the festive occasion, Ambassador Singh noted that Baisakhi is celebrated as the new year in Punjab and other parts of India.
He told the gathering, “In the spirit of the unity in our diversity, in the month of April, the new year is celebrated in many states of India – in Bengal, Assam, states in the south – which also shows as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, ‘Our differences do not divide us, they define us’, and we grow up in the midst of our unity in diversity”.
At the outset, accomplished Ragi (musician), Bhai Kirpal Singh of the Sikh Foundation of Virginia, accompanied by Bhai Onkar Singh and Bhai Karam Singh, rendered a soulful shabad (hymn), ‘Manas ki jaat sabhai ekai pehchanbo’, by tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh Ji, which recognizes the whole of humanity as one – a fitting invocation to the Baisakhi celebration!
Referring to the shabad, Ambassador Singh told the gathering, “I think that is a very important message in today’s global context marked by extremism, exclusion, violence and terrorism”.
Regarding India-US ties since he came to Washington as New Delhi’s top diplomat in April 2015, the envoy said, “It has been a year of great achievement, following what was accomplished in 2014-15″.
He spoke of heightened bilateral engagement in the context of important, high-profile visits, beginning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit in September 2015 which included stops on the west coast. “There is a lot of focus on the existing cooperation and opportunities we have in digital technology, renewable energy, innovation”, Ambassador Singh said.
“A couple of weeks ago, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was in India and he drew attention to the cooperation we are having now in defense technology, in co-production, co-development.
“A week ago, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was here for interactions both at the government level and with institutional investors. What I saw in the meetings in the interactions with institutional investors is that there is a clear message from US entities – they are very upbeat, heavily engaged with India”, he said. “They see India as a moment and area of great opportunity in the current global context”.
Citing statistics by a private equity firm, Ambassador Singh pointed out that “in the last year, the commercial real estate expansion in Bengaluru was more than what happened in New York and London combined. That captures the energy with which the expansion and activities are taking place in India”, he said, to much applause from the gathering.
The envoy also shared recent trends in India, noting that despite all the challenges, including on the global front, the growth rate hovered between 7 and 7.5 percent. “The expectation is that in the coming year our growth rates should be even higher”, he said, given predictions of a good monsoon, enhanced rural demand and the rural incomes that will be generated.
Ambassador Singh told the gathering of Indian-Americans, “We have seen more flow of Foreign Direct Investment into India, including from the United States. If you look at the renewable energy sector which is in focus after the Paris Climate Change Agreement, in the past one year, we have added 7 gigawatts of renewable energy in India; before that it was just 4 gigawatts. The expectation is that in the coming year, we will add 9 gigawatts or even more. This is just a reflection of the effort, the changes, the direction”, he said.
Referring to strides in infrastructure development, he pointed out, “Today, we are building in India, 20 kilometers of roads every day. The aim is to try and take it to 40 kilometers. That would lead to a massive expansion of infrastructure, massive demand creation, and also generation of economic activity”.
Among other high-ranking Indian Embassy officials, greeting and mingling with guests at the Baisakhi celebration, were: Deputy Chief of Mission Taranjit Singh Sandhu; Minister of Community Affairs, Mr. N.K. Mishra; Minister of Press, Information and Culture, Sridharan Madhusudhanan; and First Secretary Suneet Mehta who served as an eloquent master of ceremonies.
In his opening remarks, Mehta highlighted the importance of Baisakhi which marks “the establishment of the Khalsa Panth, the commencement of the harvest season and a new year. Baisakhi, the harvest festival, is an occasion to celebrate the fruits of our farmers toil and a thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest”, he said, emphasizing “the hard work and dedication of our farmers to the progress of the nation”.
The program also featured: an address on the significance of Baisakhi by Dr. Pavanjit Kaur Sawhney, a practicing Neurologist in Maryland for the last 32 years, and a philanthropist; a musical segment by singers Raj Nijjar and Manjot Kaur, accompanied by Adnan Massod on keyboard, Shrikant Awalegaonkar on guitar, and Nabeel Riaz on tabla; energetic Punjabi dances by talented teens of the Manassas-based Virginia School of Bhangra; the popular folk dance Gidha by a Baltimore-based group; and closing remarks by Paramvir Singh Soni, Chairperson of the Guru Nanak Foundation of America (GNFA).
This article is published in the Washington-based newspaper, INDIA THIS WEEK, dated April 29, 2016