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Ahmedabad a Leading Contender for Atlanta’s Sister City

July 2007
Ahmedabad a Leading Contender for Atlanta’s Sister City

The Indian community in Atlanta held a public meeting on May 30 at the Impact Conference Hall of Global Mall to identify a sister city in India for the city of Atlanta. The meeting was facilitated by Kenneth A. Cutshaw, the honorary consul for India in Atlanta and was presided by the chair of the Sister City Program, Terri Simmons, who presented the program's goals and objectives as well as explained the nuances that make such relationship so critical for the twinned cities and which lead to exchange of culture, academia, economy and people.

Simmons said a commission would be appointed to discuss policies on issues such as investment, world peace, cultural exchange, etc. between sister cities each year. This year, the Mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin, discussed public transit and green space with the commissions of other sister cities.

After Cutshaw touched up on the fact that several of the larger cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and others are already tied up in such a sister-city arrangement with other cities in the U.S., nominations were then invited from those gathered at the town hall type meeting.

Ahmedabad was by far the leading contender for Atlanta's sister city. Not only did it get the most number of nominations, but was also the only nominee to have met the formal paperwork requirements, such as a letter of interest from the mayor or other authority from the city nominated. The only other nomination, made by Chand Akkineni, was for Hyderabad. Akkineni talked about how Hyderabad has been split into two municipal corporations: Hyderabad and Greater Hyderabad, because of which he was unable to submit written evidence from the mayor of Greater Hyderabad. Dr. Narsi Narsimhan, while sharing his support for Ahmedabad, also voiced in favor of keeping the process open to other nominations in the follow through of the meeting.

According to Simmons, there is no set review time of the selection process. She said if an application is submitted in three months, then the process is likely to start at the end of the year or early 2008 depending on the commitments of the selection board. The members of the board are elected by the mayor of Atlanta and the sister city in question. The members need not be residents of the sister city, but should be someone with an interest and understanding of the economic and cultural ties between the sister city and Atlanta.

Ahmedabad was a frontrunner for several reasons, apart from a letter of interest from the city's Mayor Amit Shah and an article in the local Economic Times which enthused about the proposed sister-city relationship. In his presentation, Jitu Patel, former president of Gujarati Samaj, cited historical and cultural similarities. He said Gujarat was the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, wheras Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr, who was greatly influenced by Gandhi's principals of non-violence and peace, began the civil rights movement in Atlanta. Patel also pointed out that Atlanta and Ahmedabad are considered the textile capitals in their respective countries. Mike Patel of the Haven Trust Bank said Ahmedabad had plans for an expanded international airport, cargo terminal and more.

Ashwin Vyas added that both cities are home to some highly respected institutions such as the Indian Institute of Management, considered India's premier business school, and Emory University, which is home to Goizueta Business School. Vyas said the experience of having worked for these two institutions has been enriching and gives him reason to believe there are synergies between the two cities. Shwetha Kohli suggested strong business tie-ups such as in the Hotel industry and tourism are some of the major reasons for supporting Ahmedabad as a sister city. Upendra Patel said the low crime rate in Ahmedabad could be an example for Atlanta to implement similar strategies to counter it.

Nayan Patel, president of BAPS, said the Swami Narayan community that is involved in social service in Ahmedabad, is also making its presence felt in Atlanta by building the one of its largest temples outside of India. Harriet Hoyskins, who was featured in Khabar as a ‘Colonial Cousin' and whose father was the first officer in the Bombay Metro Chambers of Commerce, said she was touched by the interest shown by children from Ahmedabad through the theatrical presentation of "Ektaa" (Unity), during their visit to Atlanta. These children also visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, where they learnt the civil rights anthem, "We shall overcome." She suggested that children from every grade level should be involved in this cultural exchange.

Dr. Narsi Narasimhan said he supports Ahmedabad but wants people to consider other cities such as Bangalore and Hyderabad. He said the proposed sister city should be such that it should be able to strengthen bonds between the U.S. and India for future generations. He mentioned S. P. Reddy, founder and CEO of enGenius, who has now moved back to Hyderabad after several years in Atlanta as a successful entrepreneur. Narasimhan said Reddy was willing to pool in a lot of resources to help both cities. He also said the public may consider Bangalore, as one of the commissioners who recently visited the city was ready to back such a proposal.

Akkineni said among the chief reasons for supporting Greater Hyderabad was its status as an information technology hub. "We have big companies like Satyam, TCS, Infosys, Dell, Dr. Reddy's, Shantha Bio-Tech, etc. in Hyderabad which are providing world class services to Americans ? and so that establishes a close nexus between the two cities." He said Hyderabad is home to renowned educational institutions like the International Business School. Recently, he said the Indian government announced the founding of another Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad.

Akkineni added people from Andhra Pradesh form the second largest group within the Indian community in Atlanta after the Gujaratis. He said 60 percent of the software engineers are from Andhra Pradesh. Akkineni said that he would be able to submit a written documentation within 40 days on the reasons for making Greater Hyderabad a sister city of Atlanta.

Dr. Gouranga Banik, president of Indian-American Cultural Association, said the town hall meeting was called to let everyone put forth their choice. And, he said, if Ahmedabad was selected — a choice he supported — he urged all community members to support the decision and work toward it.

- Viren Mayani

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