Sen. Mark Warner headlines Washington, D.C. Republic Day event

Philanthropist Frank Islam receives the National Capital Area Indian Associations’ Felicitation Award, at an event to celebrate India’s Republic Day, at the McLean High School in McLean Va., Feb. 2. From left, Gopinath Durgayanaidu, Jay Bhandari, Nayna Desai, Dr. Har Swarup Singh, Nilima Mehra, Frank Islam, Sen. John Warner, Dr. Sambhu N. Banik, chairman of the Awards Committee, NCAIA Distinguished Service Award recipient Anil Sharma, NCAIA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dr. Hari Har Singh, and Aloke Sriuvastava, receiving the NCAIA Distinguished Service Award on behalf of Harsh Sethi, who could not be present.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), who was the guest of honor at the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area celebrations of India’s 71st Republic Day and Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, has said that while “sometimes politics is a little crazy, whether it is the politics in Delhi or in Washington,” there was no denying that “the support for India is truly bipartisan” on Capitol Hill.

The influential lawmaker, a former governor of Virginia, who is the ranking Democrat of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and is also the vice-chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, in his remarks at the festivities held at the McLean High School in McLean Va., Feb. 2, and organized by the National Capital Area Indian Associations (NCAIA), said, “I am really excited to be here as part of this celebration since one, it’s the celebration of 150 years of one of the greatest men ever to have lived — Mahatma Gandhi — and that we celebrate his life, his commitment to equality that he was always fighting for, and also proud of the fact that this is the 71st anniversary of India’s Republic Day.”

Warner recalled that “I was very honored four years ago, on Republic Day, to be in Delhi with then President Obama, when we called upon Prime Minister Modi and I had a chance to participate in the Republic Day celebrations in India.”

He also informed the audience of several hundred guests at the all-day celebrations, filled with cultural activities, fun and games for adults and children and a mela, that he was also “very proud to be the co-chairman of the Senate India Caucus — the largest bipartisan caucus in the whole U.S. Congress.”

Both in the Senate and the House, the Senate India Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans respectively are the largest country specific and community specific caucus on Capitol Hill.

Warner, also cognizant that scores of the those attending the celebrations were H-1B professionals — working in the high tech and information technology companies in Virginia and Maryland and in the D.C. area — who have been waiting for years for their green cards and also now fearful that their children, once they reach adulthood would not be eligible to remain in the U.S. as they would no longer be dependents on their parents visas, said he was committed to not letting that happen if he could help it.

“One of the bills I have been working on now — and when I see these young people singing and dancing — one of the things we must make sure is that they can remain in the U.S.,” he said, and pointed out that “I am the only Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, which would raise the country cap on H-1B visas (although apparently what he also meant was on green cards so that H-1B visa holders also waiting on their green cards for years could be expedited when Indian nationals are allowed a larger permanent residency than countries with much smaller populations like Canada, which enjoys the same country quota and Canadian nationals receive their green cards in a fraction of the time of Indians).”

Warner said that “the incredible talent that the Indian American community brings and the idea that some of these young people who’ve lived here most of their lives in the United States would somehow lose their visas when they hit 18 or 21 years of age is not right.

“We need to make sure that we remain an open and welcoming country, particularly to the Indian community,” he said.

Warner, who has also been a strong proponent of U.S.-India defense ties, said he was very much aware of the exponential growth in this area and “in terms of joint defense activities,” and lauded the fact that “the world’s two largest democracies will also continue to fight the challenge against terrorism — whether it appears in India, whether it appears in Kashmir, or whether it appears in this country.

But Warner noted that “I was the very first governor to lead a delegation to India,” and joked that “one of the most exciting times for me during that trip was when I went to Mumbai and I got a chance to take part in some of the Bollywood activities.”

The Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian embassy, Amit Kumar, at the outset, thanked Warner for gracing the occasion, describing him “as a longtime friend of India,” whose support for “a close India-U.S. relationship” has been unstinted.

The diplomat, who was the charge d’affaires at the embassy, till the arrival of the new ambassador, said the India-U.S. relations “has grown tremendously over the past decade and indeed we have been witness to strong bipartisan support from Capitol Hill during this period.”

Kumar also said that the government of India would continue “with its pro-active approach to engage the diaspora,” and explained that “we have taken a number of steps to simplify and expedite passport, visa, and consular services, and in a similar vein these facilities have also been extended to the asylees.

“Our embassies and consulates are available on holidays and beyond office hours to attend to any emergency cases,” he said.

The cultural program, which comprised over 100 children of all ages and adults and also ‘cool’ moms and grandmothers in dark glasses performing several singing items, including patriotic songs, and dances were coordinated and choreographed by Nilima Mehra, the popular producer and anchor of Global Television Network (GTV), which every weekend serves up a plethora of Indian and South Asian American programs.

Mehra also emceed the entire program, including the awards ceremony, and the speakers program, including that of Warner and Kumar, which were punctuated by the cultural events.

Warner, Kumar and the chairman of the awards committee, Dr. Sambhu Banik, presented the awards to Frank Islam, philanthropist and entrepreneur, who received the NCAIA coveted Felicitation Award for his “outstanding philanthropic and other social services” for both the Indian American and mainstream communities.

Dr. Hari Har Singh received the Lifetime Achievement Award, while Balagan Arunaswamy, Anil Sharma, and Harish Sethi, received Distinguished Service awards.

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