New Alignments, Initiatives Revealed at Consulate’s R-Day Reception

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From left: Ashok Mago; Congressman Pete Olson, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Dr. Renu Khator, Consul General Harish Parvathaneni, Nandita Parvathaneni, Congressman Ted Poe, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Council Member Mike Laster and Council Member Jack Christie, at the Republic Day Reception on January, 31.  Photos: Bijay Dixit, Unique Photo Images

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: Most people who attended the Indian Republic Day reception last Sunday, January 31 probably expected the usual fare of speechmaking, photo ops, light entertainment and a good line up of appetizers. In this, those who came to the event at the Hilton Post Oak hotel, which has become the favored site of the Consulate to mark Indian national events, were not disappointed. What they were not expecting were the major announcements that four separate officials made as they strode up to the podium to say their piece.

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Consul General addressing the gathering.

Just as last year, the reception emphasized the Make In India campaign, a hallmark of the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he took office May 2014, with the side walls laid out with banners, an LED screen showing videos and posterboard cutouts of the striding lion, both in the lobby and onstage, symbolizing the campaign. After the program, as guests dined, the LED screen played out videos of cabinet ministers explaining India’s goals and advances made in attaining them.

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Consul General (left) honoring The Honorable Mayor Sylvester Turner, City of Houston (right) with a plaque in recognition of his efforts for promoting Indo-US economic engagement and friendship.

As expected, the usual list of local elected officials, business and industry leaders, arts and culture figures and media were invited to the event held on a Sunday evening, which was a departure from the previous years’ insistence on holding the event on the date of the actual Republic Day, January 26. Among them were newly elected Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner,; Hon. Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX 2nd); Congressman Pete Olson (R-TX 22nd); Harris County Judge Ed Emmett; Houston City Councilmen Mike Laster and Jack Christie; Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis; Jay Guerrero, representing US Senator John Cornyn; Booker T. Morris III representing Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee D-TX 18th and Sam Merchant representing Congressman Al Green D-TX 9th.

Also in attendance were Padma Shri Awardee and founding Chairman of the US India Chamber of Commerce Dallas/FortWorth, Ashok Mago; Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awardee and Chancellor & President of the University of Houston, Dr. Renu Khator; and members of the Consular Corps.

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Indian Consul General Harish began the program by noting that both the Indian and US constitutions begin with the words “We the people …”, grant fundamental rights, and encourage shaping one’s destiny through hard work. He noted the progress that had been made in bi-lateral relations and trade in recent years between the two countries, and the personal goodwill between Modi and US President Barack Obama.

Harish cited his own ability to build strong relationships in the Bayou City during his three and a half years in the city, saying “he and his family had received a warm welcome in Houston.” He noted many accomplishments in Indo-Texas trade during that time: the largest investments by Texas in India and Indian companies in the region; the 6 million tons per annum of LNG, soon-to-be-shipped from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass export terminal; the trade delegation headed by former Mayor Annise Parker that visited India last year; the International Yoga Day event that drew 3,000 to the George Brown Convention Center last year and the planned visit to India by Turner in 2016/17 heading another trade delegation.

In a departure from his predecessors, Harish used the occasion to announce, to applause and murmurs from the hall, that he had been appointed as Ambassador to Vietnam and expected to leave in the next few months. He later said that he successor will be Anupam Ray, an IFS officer who is currently on scholarly leave on the faculty at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce of the University of Kentucky and recently was the deputy Coordinator of the BRICs Summit in 2012. Houston has been a jumping-off spot for all previous Consul-Generals to take on an assignment as Ambassador to their next postings.

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Students from Anjali Center for Performing Arts performing a classical dance on this occasion.

This was one of four major announcements that evening. Turner gave his congratulations and spoke of Mahatma Gandhi’s inspiration to Martin Luther King and how that affected him personally. He acknowledged that India had become an important partner to Houston’s economy and his intention to work with the Indian community here. Booker Morris and Sam Merchant said a few words and presented proclamations from Lee and Green.

But it was Ted Poe, known for his country witticisms and habit of shooting from the hip, who made the first surprising announcement. He noted that this was India’s 67th Republic Day and his own 67th birthday too. He joked, that as former judge, he could issue a court order to have Harish “stick around.” He ended by stating “the US needs to establish a more candid relationship with Pakistan. We don’t need to pay them to hate us, – don’t need to send aid to Pakistan … since it is used against us.”

Pete Olson, clad in a sleeveless waistcoat, and favored by Modi, opened by folding his hands and offering a namaste.“ We have no better partner in the world than India,” he carried on, quoting figures for impressive trade growth over the past 15 years. He was impressed by Modi’s recent surprise visit to Pakistan and also echoed Poe’s sentiments of establishing closer ties to India than Pakistan.

Finally, it was Emmett, a long-time enthusiastic admirer of India who has traveled there and has a son who lives in an ashram near Pune, who made the last of the announcements by insisting on four assignments for the Bayou City. He asked for more Indo Americans on Boards and Commissions in the county and city; establishing direct flights between India and Houston; establishing direct shipping routes between Mumbai and Houston and identifying opportunities to share knowledge and technology with India.

A dance presentation by students from the Anjali Performing Arts Center – whose Director Ratna Kumar was recognized – where Harish’s daughter Amani learns classical dance, culminated the program before a deep round of appetizers was served, catered by Udipi restaurant, whose owner Satish Rao was present.