Ambassador Navtej Sarna Announces ‘Open House’ to Redress Grievances in Embassy’s Consular Service
By Geeta Goindi
Fairfax, Virginia, December 4, 2016 – In a one-of-a-kind event, the diaspora warmly welcomed incoming Ambassador Navtej Sarna and bid a fond, emotional adieu to Deputy Chief of Mission Taranjit Singh Sandhu.
Over 350 people packed the elegant ballroom of the Waterford at Fair Oaks on a Sunday evening for a sparkling community reception spearheaded by activist Dr. Yogendra Gupta. The cool and crisp weather typical of early December in the Washington area did nothing to deter the enthusiasm of the crowd comprising prominent Indian-Americans from all walks of life. There was a collective desire to warmly welcome the new envoy and an eagerness to express gratitude for the fruitful tenure of the deputy ambassador.
Cutting a regal figure with his tall stature, both literally and figuratively, Ambassador Sarna extolled the Indian-American community which he noted forms only one percent of the US population, but its members make up 9 percent of physicians, 30 percent of start-up founders in Silicon Valley, and 50 percent of the hospitality industry. These are awe-inspiring figures given the size of the community!
“This is a huge compliment to all of you that you have turned mathematics on its head”, the envoy told the gathering.
Returning to Washington after a gap of 15 years, he saw “a lot of familiar faces in the audience. There is the same warmth and enthusiasm”, he said.
“I know things have changed dramatically here”, he noted, recalling that in his earlier stint as Press Counselor at the Embassy, fortifying India-US ties “was an uphill task. We were in the doghouse after the nuclear tests which India had conducted keeping in view it’s security interests and the situation in the world”, he said. Gradually, “that relationship turned around and changed qualitatively and quantitatively” so today, whether you go to Capitol Hill where you find bipartisan support for India-US ties, or whether you look at industry and the interest in India, the scientific community, defense and strategic affairs, “the India-US relationship is viewed as one of the most important. And for that I salute all of you for the huge contribution that each one of you has made individually and collectively as associations to influence US policy”, Ambassador Sarna told the gathering.
In what may be seen as a reward to the community, he announced a new initiative that would seek to redress grievances related to the Embassy’s consular service which handles passports, visas and OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) cards. Beginning in the first week of January, an Open House will be held every fortnight at the Indian Embassy in Washington as well as the five consulates located in New York, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco, to tackle teething problems in consular matters. The web-site of the embassy and consulates will display a designated date and time at which members of the community can discuss such issues with a senior official proficient in consular affairs.
Ambassador Sarna dwelt at some length on how Indian-Americans who migrated to America some three decades ago felt cut-off from their motherland. With rapid advances in communication, technology, that feeling of isolation is all in the past and they now feel like an integral part of India’s political and economic development, he noted.
“Accordingly, the relationship between the Indian Embassy and community has changed entirely”, he told the gathering. “Today, we are in close partnership. Our doors are always open. We see your strength and hopefully you see some utility in us. We would like to chalk up plans and programs in which we work together with the community, in which we have open, honest conversations. Our larger objective is the same – We are strengthened, all of us are strengthened, if India-US relations are strengthened”.
Regarding the grand community reception, the envoy thanked members of the organizing committee “who extended a very warm invitation which it was clear was coming from their hearts”, he said. Together with Dr. Gupta, organizers and advisors included stalwarts of the community such as Mrs. Angela Anand, Mr. Ashok Batra, Mrs. Promila Gupta, Mr. Satish Korpe, Dr. Sambhu Banik, Mr. Jay Bhandari, Dr. Har Swarup Singh, Mr. Sunil Singh, Mr. Kripa Singh, Mr. Kumar Singh, Mr. Gopinath Durgaiyanaidu and Mr. Anadi Naik. Mrs. Nilima Mehra of Global Television Network served as the emcee of the event which began with artistes of the Muvva Kuchipudi Dance School singing the national anthems of India and the US, followed by the Ganesh Vandana – an invocation in Indian classical dance.
Looking around the packed ballroom, Ambassador Sarna said, “It is a great privilege to be here in this huge crowd”. In all humility, he attributed the crowd size to the popularity of DCM Sandhu who will now be heading to Colombo as the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.
“I am not happy about bidding him farewell. I wish he would stay on till I leave”, Ambassador Sarna said, candidly. “I have seen the absolute commitment, the unrelenting hard work and complete focus on the job which he has shown over so many years” and “in so many critical posts”.
Given the radical change in the US administration and the ensuing uncertainties in the minds of many, the envoy’s words were even more profound and impacting. Deputy Ambassador Sandhu’s experience, diplomatic prowess, and invaluable rapport with American officials are needed more than ever in Washington.
At the community reception, he implored young Indian-Americans to be more involved and hoped that at the next such event, at least 15 tables will be occupied by them. Citing the example of the Jewish community and how its youth make trips to Israel, DCM Sandhu said, “We need a similar practice in the Indian-American community because the economic future belongs to India” and the youth “will be very well positioned to capitalize on that”.
Lauding Indian-Americans for their stellar accomplishments, he told the gathering, “Each one of you, through determination and hard work, has succeeded here. Whenever one talks to leaders on Capitol Hill, the success of the Indian-American community is always one of the most important aspects” of any discussion.
Virginia State Senator Bryce Reeves (Republican-Spotsylvania), who is currently running for Lieutenant Governor, mingled with the gathering at the reception, staying from start to finishing, and enjoying himself in the process. “We as Americans are the best and only hope for the rest of the world to see and the best and the brightest are in this room”, he said, in his address.
Senator Reeves quoted former president Ronald Reagan who believed that, in America, “We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to stand for something – for liberty and freedom and fairness. And these are the things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to”.