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Georgia’s Indian-Americans hosts dinner-reception for the Ambassador Sen

July 2007
Georgia’s Indian-Americans hosts dinner-reception for the Ambassador Sen

The Indian-American community of Georgia was present in full strength to welcome the Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Ronen Sen, during his recent visit to Atlanta.

The Gandhi Foundation of USA (GFUSA) and various organizations such as Georgia Association of Physicians from India (GAPI), American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), India American Cultural Association (IACA) and National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), along with support from numerous other organizations in the state and the sponsorship of Global Mall, hosted a banquet in honor of Sen, his wife, Kalpana, and Consul General of India S. M. Gavai.

The banquet included distinguished politicians, leading community activists and representatives of various ethnic and religious associations.

The ambassador patiently met with the cross section of guests. Subash Razdan who emceed the event said, "There is hardly any organization in Georgia that is not represented here tonight. You cannot find a better united community in Georgia than you are seeing tonight. The last time, we had such a unified gathering was during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta." The Sens were presented with bouquets by Parul Parekh and Aarti Aggarwal and a shawl by JanabYusuf Bhaisaheb Zainuddin.

Bouquets were also presented to numerous other distinguished guests and speakers. Among the well-known members of the community present at the event were Global Mall owner Shiv Aggarwal and his, wife, Anushi Aggarwal; Lillian Webb, mayor of Norcross; Keith Schubert, commissioner of Norcross: Ms. Claire McLeveighn, director of external affairs and international relations, city of Atlanta; Thomas Lee, a senior Coca-Cola executive; Giriraj Rao, co-founder and executive Director of GFUSA and first Indian-American recipient of Georgia Governor's Humanitarian Award; Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, president of GAPI; Dr. Naresh Parikh, director of AAPI-South; Dr. Asha Parikh; Gouranga Banik, president of IACA; Dhirendra Shah, regional vice president, NFIA; Laura Lee Blake, vice president, government affairs, AAHOA; Behruz Sethna, president and acting vice chancellor of State University of West Georgia, and his wife, Madhavi Sethna; Narender Reddy, a prominent political activist of Republican party of Georgia; Acharya Vijayji of Yoga and Meditation fame; and many others.

Ujjagar Singh Wassan, representing the Sikh community and an artist, regaled the audience with a recital of Bahadur Shah Zafar's ghazals.

In his brief introduction of Mayor Lilian Webb, Dhirendra Shah of NFIA called Webb, the first woman Mayor of Norcross, a great friend and supporter of the community.

Webb recounted the initial struggles in the '80s faced by Indian-Americans in settling down in Georgia. Over the years, she said, the commendable resilience, insight and intelligence has showcased the progress and the outstanding role played by the community in the state.

Laura Lee Blake of AAHOA talked about Sen's work in Washington. She said he had taken an unprecedented step by inviting 300 members of the National Press to his home last year. She talked about his recent attempts at mango diplomacy which led to Sen giving gift baskets of Indian mangoes to U.S. officials.

Claire McLeveighn conveyed Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's message to the audience, welcoming visitors to the "global city of Atlanta." "As commerce becomes increasingly global, we are tied ever more closely to India. However, for the city of Atlanta, our interest in India extends even further, because Atlanta and India have special bond because of two greatest men of peace of modern times, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. It is a well-known fact that Gandhi was Dr. King's role model for nonviolent social change ? This history and commonality compels Atlanta to forge a formal partnership with a city in India as well. In many ways, India has helped Atlanta and Georgia to connect to the world. Tonight, we assure our support for the closest possible ties in business, development and friendship" she said on behalf of Franklin.

Razdan, who is part of the taskforce for Atlanta's sister city, informed the audience about the possible sister-city connection between Atlanta and Ahmedabad in India's western state of Gujarat. He said Ahmedabad had received an overwhelming support because of the unique bond between Gandhi and Dr. King. He asked Claire to expedite the process.

Later, Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda introduced Sen, inviting him to give his keynote address.

Sen said, "This is a good time to be India's Ambassador to the U.S. At the same time, it should be remembered that the world is changing, and India is changing also. Old conflicts have been resolved, but there are new challenges — we have biggest concentration of terrorists in our neighborhood and we are next to the biggest sources and destinations of nuclear proliferation. Despite all this, the ponderous elephant (implying India) is moving at a fast clip. We had a 9.4 percent growth rate last year. It has taken us so long because we have not completely shed our colonial mentality, which sadly is still evident in our bureaucracy. We can do better. India has maximum number of billionaires in Asia, and yet India has significant poverty. India is among the three largest economic powers in the world, together with China and the U.S.

"For centuries, even millennia, India accounted for one-quarter of world economy. What we are doing now is reclaiming our heritage. People talk of democracy, but that is innate in us. It is not a British heritage. Those who equate it with Western values are either arrogant or hopelessly ignorant. So India is not only economy or flag or national anthem, it is more than platitudes. What we are today is what Martin Luther King stood for, what Mahatma Gandhi stood for. Freedom and Peace."

Sen touched upon the concerns of the community, reassuring the audience that there would be more flights to India.

The ambassador later handed out plaques to representatives of Sumanth Center - Shri Shakti Mandir ( Ashwin Patel); Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta (Amit Shah, Vinod & Mrs.Arunaben Patel); and IACA (Vasav Mehta, Gouranga Banik, Surinder Bahl and Tushar Sanghvi who could not attend) for helping the India Consulate with its mobile visa/passport services.

- Mahadev Desai


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