IACCGH Gala: Celebrating 15+ Years of ‘Overwhelming’ Successes

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From left: President Ashok Garg, Ambassador Richard Verma and Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia.

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By Pramod Kulkarni

HOUSTON: Founded in 1999, the Indo-American Chamber of Greater Houston (IACCGH) has experienced tremendous growth in size and influence during the last 15+ years, as the chamber built bridges between India, the Indo-American business community and the mainstream Texas institutions and enterprises.

As he welcomed the audience at the sold-out Hilton Americas Hotel banquet hall, Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia declared he was “overwhelmed” by the organization’s successes.

More than 650 ICCGH members and their guests attended the chamber’s 16th gala on Saturday, Sept. 19.

Emcee for the evening’s program was KHOU Channel 11 anchor Rekha Muddaraj. The US and Indian national anthems were sung by Keerthana and Kruthi Bhat. The banquet cuisine was catered by Daawat.

After a welcome address by Asif Dakri, CEO, Wallis State Bank and gala underwriter, India’s Consul General P.. Harish addressed the gathering.

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From left: President Ashok Garg, Mahindra USA President Mani Iyer, Blue Lance CEO Umesh Verma, Keynote Speaker Ambassador Richard Verma, India House President Dr. Manish Rungta, Wallis State Bank CEO Asif Dakri and Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia.
Photos: Kaushlesh Biyani

In his remarks, CG Harish recalled that this was his fourth gala attendance, having assumed his post in Houston in 2012.

Commenting on the growth of trade between India and the United States, CG Harish said, “The first liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments from the Gulf Coast will begin in 2017. The US is scheduled to supply up to one-third of India’s natural gas imports.”

Pointing out the Indian government’s “Make in India” initiative, CG Harish said, “The government is committed to grow manufacturing in India. For companies planning to invest in the manufacturing sector, there will be no red tape, only a red carpet.”

IACCGH President Ashok Garg then provided highlights of the chamber’s activity during the year, including a trade delegation to India, organized by the chamber, and led by Houston Mayor Anise Parker. Garg recalled that it was during the trip to India that he had the opportunity to meet US Ambassador to India Richard Verma and invite him to be the chief guest and keynote speaker at the gala.

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The 25th US Ambassador to India, Verma is an Indo-American, who grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Verma’s father immigrated to the US as a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and his late mother, Savitri, was a special needs school teacher.

Verma began his career in the US Air Force as an judge advocate. Verma subsequently worked as a lawyer at the Steptoe & Johnson law firm until he became a senior adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from 2002 to 2007. He joined the State Department in 2007 as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs.

Praising the chamber’s efforts to increase trade relations with India, Verma said, “Texas is the leading US state in providing direct investment in India and the state is also the largest recipient of investments by Indian companies in the US. Texas also leads the nation in joint partnerships for innovation.”

Verma teased the audience with Indian trait of finding a connection with anyone they meet by telling a personal story. “My dad, no matter which Indian person we meet, would find some connection with that person, whether it is that they came from the same town or same college, or a cousin brother of a best friend.

“In 2009, I was assigned to a receiving line to greet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a state dinner at the White House,” Verma recalled. “My father told me to tell the prime minister that we’re from the same place, but I steadfastedly refused. When we actually met, the Prime Minister looked me over from head to toe and said, ‘You’re Indian.’ I said yes, and the PM asked where’s your father from? I said ‘Jalandher’, The PM then turned to the President and said, ‘His father and I are from the same place in India.”

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On a serious note, Verma said relations between India and the US are in a good position. “The real credit for this goes to you. At some point in their lives, your parents or your uncle or aunt took a chance on creating a new life in a new country, leaving loved ones and close friends behind, but in return, this state and city welcomed you. You worked in the space program, you developed advanced in medicine, and you became critical leaders of this state, while retaining your culture and your heritage.

“You, without perhaps realizing it, kept our two democracies together,” continued Verma. “You did this through the toughest times, through your vast networks, personal ties and through your commitment to shared values of hard work, education, commitment to family and the rule of law. For that I want to thank you personally.”

Speaking about his current role, Verma explained, “During my days as ambassador, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many different regions of India. I’ve seen, first hand, the great excitement about US-India relations, and the promise of our strategic partnership for the 21st century. I was able to accompany a group of Indian naval personnel to our aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson off the coast of Kerala on a joint exercise. With US funding of solar panels, a company in Karnataka is using renewable energy to make cricket bats. I saw in West Bengal, young people from the American midwest helping women rescued from sex trafficking to weave handbags from donated saris that are now being sold in European department stores.”

Ambassador Verma also described his meeting with industrialist Ratan Tata and acting legend Amitabh Bachchan to begin a collaborative effort to end tuberculosis.

The ambassador concluded his eloquent address with a few data points of the growth in India-US relationships. “In 2005, our bilateral trade was at $30 billion. In 2014, the trade had increased to $105 billion. In 2005, 30,000 Indian students were studying in US colleges. Today, there are 105,000. The growth of Indian visitors has grown from 400,000 in 2005 to 1.2 million in 2014. US defense sales to India have from grown from 0 to $12 billion.”

Presenting the vote of thanks was President-elect Joya Shukla, P&T Export Controls Manager at Shell’s Westhollow Technology Center. Outlining her goals for the IACCGH during the upcoming year, Mrs. Shukla said, “In 2016, we’ll continue to explore opportunities for energy, education, and healthcare by continuing the corporate sponsored programs, and  furthering the opportunities for student internships in India.”

The evening concluded with entertainment by Moodafaruka and a special effected desert catered by Frost 3.2.1.

2015 Award Winners

  • Entrepreneur of the Year:
    Umesh Verma, CEO, Blue Lance—cybersecurity governance solutions
  • Inbound Investment & Job Creator:
    Mani Aiyer, CEO, Mahindra USA Tractor
  • Business Advocate of the Year:
    Asif Dakri, Wallis State Bank
  • Community Service:
    Manish Rungta, President, India House