TALLAHASSEE — Delivering on a promise he made to his key Indian American constituents and major fund-raisers—led by Digvijay ‘Danny’ Gaekwad — that if elected he would host the first-ever Diwali celebration in the Executive Mansion, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis did just that on Nov.6, with a historic event that drew nearly 250 Indian Americans from all over the Sunshine State.
In his welcoming remarks to the Indian American community leaders and others who ranged from hoteliers to technology entrepreneurs and physicians to those involved in the health-care industry and real-estate property development, DeSantis said he and his wife, the First Lady of Florida Casey DeSantis, were “proud to be here at the Mansion for the first time ever in the state of Florida to celebrate Diwali,” and pledged to to make it an annual tradition.
“I thank Danny for organizing this… once we said we’d do it, we knew we would, and here we are,” he said.
DeSantis, pointed out that he was familiar with Diwali as “I was involved doing Diwali really in Congress for several years before I was even Governor. So, that was the reason, I knew more about it than the average elected official.”
He declared, “We are very blessed and very fortunate” to host Diwali and he also thanked Dr. Piyush Agrawal and his son Akhil Agrawal “for being with us today and I really appreciate you guys,” for helping to coordinate the event.
DeSantis said the opening up the Governor’s mansion to Diwali celebration, is a recognition of “the great contributions of Hindus, but particularly the Indian Americans in the state of Florida and that’s something we are very proud of.”
DeSantis said, in keeping with the spirit of Diwali and its emphasis “on light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance,” it was imperative that “this is a time for unity in the state—a time for people to focus on some of the things that unite us.”
He bemoaned that “there is a lot going on in society that are very divisive,” and acknowledged, “that’s just the nature of it in our modern age, and I am not going to sit here and tell you I have a solution. But the more we can come together like this, I think the better off we’ll be as a state and as a people.”
Gaekwad, in his rousing introduction, thanked DeSantis for hosting the Diwali celebration, and said, “I have been coming to the Governor’s House since 1991, and this is the only governor who has promised and kept the promise.”
Akhil Agrawal, expressed his “sincere appreciation to the Governor for hosting this event,” and said, “we can’t overstate the excitement within the Indian American community.”
Agrawal then went on to provide a detailed exposition of the significance of Diwali, pointing out that “it is one of the most popular festivals in Hinduism, which symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance.”
This was followed by the recital of Hindu prayers and the lighting of the diya by DeSantis, Gaekwad, Piyush Agrawal and some of the other community leaders. DeSantis along with his wife, interacted for over an hour with the guests, posing for scores of selfies and pictures.
When asked why it had taken all these years for the Indian American community that has interacted with Florida politicians and governors for decades, going back to 1980, to have one of them to host a Diwali celebration, Gaekwad faulted the erstwhile, entrenched crop of “so-called community leaders and the fund-raising ‘bundlers.’” A resident of Ocala, Florida, Gaekwad has emerged in recent years as perhaps the most influential Indian American Republican in Florida’s political circles and as the leading fund-raiser for GOP candidates, including then presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
He told India Abroad, “All of them (Florida politicians and governors) took us for granted because the Indian American leadership had a problem—the Indian American community leaders never asked. And, if you don’t ask, your mom would not give you food because she thinks you are not hungry.”
Gaekwad, also a stalwart of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association(AAHOA) and the founder and CEO of several hotels and property management companies, particularly in the hospitality industry, said, “They were just happy with photo-ops, the ‘bundlers’ who hosted these fund-raisers were just happy to take their checks and also took all the credit.”
Gaekwad also took some hefty swipe at those whom he called, “The old Republican establishment guys among the Indian Americans who supported the likes of Jeb Bush—they don’t have clout anymore.”
“We’ve now got a fresh crop of Indian American Republican leaders and they don’t care anymore for the old establishment types. These old establishment guys are so out of touch,” he said.