Senator Warner: Prime Minister Modi’s US Visit, “A Home Run”

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October 15, 2014

By Geeta Goindi

Chantilly, VA – Reflecting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent US visit to New York and Washington, a powerful US lawmaker has called it “a home run”.

October 15, 2014

By Geeta Goindi

Chantilly, VA – Reflecting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent US visit to New York and Washington, a powerful US lawmaker has called it “a home run”.

Scenes from the colorful Diwali festival organized by Rushhi Entertainment at the spacious Dulles Expo Center.  Seen here at top is Senator Mark Warner of Virginia with talented young artistes of the area

Speaking to us at an annual Diwali festival which drew scores of Indian-Americans to the spacious Dulles Expo Center this past weekend, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said, “I think Modi’s visit was just a home run!  It was a very successful visit”.

The lawmaker is the Democratic Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus, the largest country-specific Caucus of its kind on Capitol Hill.  He noted, “There are so many things where India and US interests are aligned.  In my mind, this is the key relationship for both countries for the 21st century”, he declared.

Senator Warner is running for re-election and he exhorted the gathering at the Heritage India Festival, a Diwali extravaganza presented by Rushhi Entertainment, to vote come November 4.  “Prime Minister Modi got 550 million votes”, he said, to loud cheers from the crowd.  “I don’t need quite that many”, he quipped.  “But, I do need to make sure that you vote”, he emphasized.  “Most importantly in America is exercising your right to vote”.

Senator Mark Warner (Democrat – Virginia) with a young festival-goer at the Diwali extravaganza by Rushhi Entertainment, in Chantilly

The lawmaker has been somewhat skeptical when it comes to India-US economic ties, but at the festival, we sensed an optimism post the visit of Prime Minister Modi who he met in Washington.  “I think you can feel from him that he is bringing a new energy to India”, Senator Warner said.  “He very much wants to open India for more business.  He has a very interesting ‘Digital India’ initiative”.  This is an ambitious e-governance project which promises to transform India into a connected knowledge economy offering world-class services at the click of a mouse.

Senator Warner told us, “As Chairman of the Senate India Caucus, I have been saying that after some of the challenges in the US-India relationship in the last year or so, it was very important in the first 100 days of the Modi government that we make progress.  And we have made progress on certain things like defense purchases, re-starting negotiations on the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT)”.

While the lawmaker could not attend the grand community reception for Modi in New York which drew 18,000 people to the iconic Madison Square Garden, he mentioned that he was cognizant of “the ‘rock star’ reception he got”.  Here in Washington, the Indian leader was feted at a State Department luncheon and a reception hosted by “the US-India Business Council (USIBC) which I am very much involved with”, Senator Warner said.  “I think he will be a great leader for India and also on the international (level).  I cannot imagine anyone on the Indian side thinking that the Prime Minister’s visit was not a home run”.

The lawmaker was full of admiration for his indefatigable energy throughout a five-day trip that was chock-a-block with engagements.  “Mr. Modi did this while he was on a nine-day fast.  It makes me think that maybe I should change my habits”, he said.

Students of the Kerala Cultural Society of Metropolitan Washington performed a semi-classical dance of Kerala at the Heritage India Diwali Festival organized by Rushhi Entertainment

Regarding the USIBC reception, he gushed, “As someone who is also in politics, to see Prime Minister Modi speak for 25 minutes with no notes and to tell the stories the way he did, he has a real gift”.

Did he convince you?, we asked Senator Warner.  “Yes”, he replied.  “It is a strange moment when you can say that politics in Delhi are now more stable than politics in Washington.  I think there is a real sense in India now that anything is possible”.

The lawmaker recalled that “back in the 1990s, there was very little relationship between India and the United States.  So, this relationship has grown dramatically”, notwithstanding “the normal rub”, he said.  “Now, India is ready to go.  I just hope the US is ready to go as well.  The proof will be, can we execute on all of the agreements that were made”.

About the Indian-American Diaspora, he emphasized that it exemplifies “such a story of culture and values, the best of both coming together.  The three million-plus Indian-Americans are a great asset for both countries”, he said.

Senator Warner told us about an initiative that he is working on which involves prodding the State Department to mobilize over 200,000 Indian-Americans who have gone back to India to retire.  “They still have American passports”, he said.  “How can America use those Indian-Americans who have returned home to India to be Goodwill Ambassadors.  It’s a real asset.  That is a great opportunity to build better relations”.

Now in its thirteenth year and growing more popular, the Heritage India Diwali Festival featured the finest of the Indian subcontinent – its culture, cuisine, commerce and entertainment!  It was a shoppers delight with over 200 booths laden with ethnic wear, jewelry, paintings, handicrafts and all the paraphernalia associated with the festival of lights!  On stage, over 400 artistes regaled the audience with folk, classical, semi-classical, Bollywood and fusion dances, music and comedy.  And the quintessential attraction was the cuisine from various regions of India, particularly the savory snacks.

Senator Mark Warner (Democrat – Virginia) reached out to members of the Indian-American community at the Diwali festival organized by Rushhi Entertainment in the spacious Dulles Expo Center.  Seen at right is Anjan Chimaladinne who is part of the lawmaker’s team on his campaign for re-election

Senator Warner did a jig with students of local dance schools, much to their delight!  Addressing the audience, he said, India and the US share “a very strong bond and I am very pleased to be here at the Diwali festival.  It is my hope that this strong bond of friendship between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy is something that we can build upon”.

The lawmaker introduced Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (Democrat) who is running for Congress from the 1oth District which includes Loudoun County and a large part of Fairfax County.  He is competing with Delegate Barbara Comstock (Republican) for the seat being vacated by Congressman Frank Wolf (Republican) who is retiring after serving 34 years on Capitol Hill.  Comstock attended the Diwali festival, on Sunday, together with Delegate David Ramadan (Republican) who is always in the forefront when it comes to community service and reaching out to everyone!


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