Resounding welcome for Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla by record number of US lawmakers

Bipartisan members of Congress laud contributions of Indian diaspora

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, February 9, 2019 – In an unprecedented turnout, 67 members of the US Congress accorded a resounding welcome to Indian ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla who arrived in the capital city merely a month ago and has hit the ground running ever since.

Clearly elated by the response at the Capitol Hill reception, Thursday evening, the envoy said it reflected “the strong bipartisan support for India” in the US Congress and among the American people. “You need only look around this room to see the enthusiasm of your constituents who have flown in from all parts of the United States to be with us here today”, he told members of the Senate India Caucus, co-chaired by Mark Warner (Democrat-Virginia) and John Cornyn (Republican-Texas), and its counterpart on the Hill, the House India Caucus, headed by George Holding (Republican-North Carolina) and Brad Sherman (Democrat-California). The event was co-hosted by both the India caucuses, a great goodwill gesture befitting New Delhi’s top diplomat in Washington.

Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla addressing a power-packed gathering on Capitol Hill. The event was a reception to warmly welcome him to Washington, hosted by the co-chairs of the India caucuses in Congress and it drew a record 67 lawmakers

Shringla revealed that in meetings with the senior leadership in Congress since he arrived here, lawmakers “recalled fondly that they were champions of the India-US relationship long before it became fashionable”. The Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, popularly known as the House India Caucus, was founded 25 years ago, in 1993, by Frank Pallone, Jr. (Democrat-New Jersey) and co-chaired by Bill McCollum (Republican-Florida), and over a decade later, in 2004, the Senate India Caucus was formed with Cornyn and Hillary Clinton (Democrat-New York) at the helm.

“Since then, at every step of the way, we have counted on your understanding and support as we continue to steer our countries ever closer”, Shringla told India caucus members mentioning the “unstinting support” and “sterling role” they played in the successful completion of the civil nuclear accord and the designation of India as a Major Defense Partner of the United States. A good part of the envoy’s remarks were devoted to the growing economic and diplomatic ties between the two nations.

At one point, he quoted Prime Minister Modi who, in his 2016 address to a joint session of Congress, stated, “Our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history. Comfort, candor and convergence define our conversations”.

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At the Capitol Hill reception, Shringla said, “I will look to the same comfort, candor and convergence as we work closely with members of Congress, particularly the India Caucus, to build upon the tremendous progress already made. Our synergies and similarities are immense, our values and love of freedom identical. The spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and high regard to family and community defines the best of both of our peoples”.

Overflow crowd for India’s 70th Republic Day celebration at Indian Embassy in Washington

A seasoned, skilled and affable diplomat, he described the people-to-people ties between India and the US as “one of natural affinity and mutual attraction. Almost every American I have met has told me how he loves Indian food and almost every Indian you meet would tell you how they love Netflix, shopping on Amazon, and posting updates on Facebook”, he said.

Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla (second from right) with guests at a welcome reception held in his honor at the Capitol Hill Visitors Center on February 7, 2019. Seen second from left is Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (Republican-Pennsylvania) and third from left is Indian-American lawmaker Ro Khanna (Democrat-California)

Noting the progress in bilateral ties, including increases in trade and defense spending, senator Warner asserted, “A lot of that strength comes from the Indian-American diaspora”, 3.5 million strong, of which 130,000 members reside in Virginia.

“We are very proud of the Senate India Caucus with over 30 members” and growing, he said emphasizing, “We remain the largest bilateral caucus in the US Senate and we are very proud of that”.

Democratic senator Mark Warner of Virginia addressing prominent Indian-Americans from across the country at a reception on Capitol Hill

Senator Cornyn pointed out that Indian-Americans in Texas are “the best educated, the most successful, and contribute the most of any group” he knows in the state, a fact that drew loud applause from the audience.

Noting that “the world has not become a safer place, but a more challenging and dangerous place”, Cornyn said he looked forward to working with the Indian leadership on matters of mutual defense, to fight against the threat of terrorism, and to make sure that people of both India and the US enjoy the blessings of prosperity, opportunity and freedom.

US lawmakers advocate strong ties with India, salute Indian-American community

Among the House members who showed up in full force at the reception were: Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat-Hawaii), the first Hindu elected to Congress, now a 2020 presidential candidate; Indian-American Democratic lawmakers Pramila Jayapal (Washington), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Illinois) and Ro Khanna (California), members of the so-called ‘samosa caucus’; Carolyn Maloney and Grace Meng, both New York Democrats; John Yarmuth (Democrat-Kentucky), Gregory Meeks (Democrat-New York), Steny Hoyer (Democrat-Maryland) and Pallone.

Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to the US Congress, is seen here addressing Indian-American activists from around the country at a reception on Capitol Hill. The Hawaii Democrat has announced she will run for president in 2020

Referring to a hate-motivated crime at the Swaminarayan Temple in Louisville just over a week ago which has sent shock waves through the Indian-American community, Congressman Yarmuth told the gathering, “A very disturbed young man vandalized the Hindu temple in my community. The bad news was that it happened. The good news was that there was such an incredible outpouring of support from the local community”, he said noting that people of the Jewish, Christian, Islamic and other faiths bandied together during the clean-up efforts. “Everyone came out to show their solidarity with the Hindu community because that’s the kind of community we are”, he added.

Swaminarayan Temple in Kentucky vandalized in “cowardly and unacceptable” act of hate

The lawmaker affirmed he salutes the Indian envoy and the diaspora. “The Indian-American community is such an important part of the fabric of America”, he said.

In his remarks at a reception on Capitol Hill, Congressman John Yarmuth (Democrat-Kentucky) denounced the hate-motivated attack on the Swaminarayan Temple in Louisville which is situated in his congressional district

Congresswoman Maloney announced she has “a special present for the ambassador” and revealed she is introducing a bill, co-sponsored by many members of the House India Caucus, that will create a Congressional Gold Medal in honor of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi — a tribute to the apostle of peace and non-violence for his many gifts and leadership to the world.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (Democrat-New York) addresses guests at a welcome reception held in honor of the new Indian ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla (third from left) on Capitol Hill

Congressman Pallone noted with pride that the House India Caucus he founded over two decades ago “is going strong”. The lawmaker recalled it was formed “because we wanted to bring India and the US closer together” and recognize the Indian-American community which “has contributed so much. I always say I have more Indian-Americans in my district than any other congressman”, he told guests at the reception.

New Jersey congressman Frank Pallone, Jr., founder and first Democratic co-chair of the House India Caucus, addresses guests at a reception on Capitol Hill. February 7, 2019

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