Consul General Swati Kulkarni addresses the crowd assembled to celebrate India's 74th Republic Day. Photo: Magic Dust Photography, circulated by the Consulate General of India

In what may have been her final Republic Day address in Atlanta, Indian Consul General Swati Kulkarni on Jan. 27 outlined her country’s latest achievements and the growing evidence of how political and economic ties with the Southeast U.S. have strengthened during her extended tenure. 

Dr. Kulkarni noted as a particular point of pride her meetings with 70 U.S. House representatives, 10 senators and seven governors across the region.

In Georgia, a bipartisan consensus has emerged on the importance of India for the state’s future: U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff visited the country on a congressional delegation last September, where he met with some of the country’s top industrialists. This summer, U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, a Republican representing the newly drawn sixth district in Georgia, is slated to head to India for his first visit as a member of Congress, according to Dr. Kulkarni. 

The consul general, who was feted at farewell events last year in anticipation of her departure, remains in Atlanta as her next posting is ironed out. She addressed a crowd assembled at city hall in Sandy Springs, not far from the consulate’s grand yellow building on Glenridge Drive.

Republic Day celebrates the adoption of India’s constitution in 1950, not quite three years after achieving independence from the United Kingdom. The pluralism enshrined in that document remains a hallmark of the world’s largest democracy, Dr. Kulkarni said, despite concerns over treatment of religious minorities voiced by the U.S. and other countries. 

“In the spirit of ‘unity in diversity,’ the country is following the right course and has made impressive strides in several fields. Yes, we acknowledge that India still has a long way to go in realizing its dreams and the road ahead is not easy,” Dr. Kulkarni said. “However, the country is brimming with self-confidence and is scaling new heights by working extremely hard.”

Dr. Kulkarni summarized points from the annual Republic Day speech by new Indian President Droupadi Murmu, touching on familiar themes like advancements in technology and entrepreneurship, including progress toward manned space flight in a country whose space program has already shaken up the satellite sector with low-cost deployments.

The consul general pointed to the burgeoning population of Indian startups and “unicorns” — private companies valued at more than $1 billion.

“From 3,000 startups in 2014, their numbers have crossed 75,000 today; from 3-4 unicorns seven years ago, there are about 108 unicorns and counting, third largest in the world,” Dr. Kulkarni was slated to say in remarks viewed by Global Atlanta. 

That growth has cooled a bit as India, like many markets, has faced a private-equity pullback as an era of easy monetary policy globally retreats. 

But the country continues to be a magnet for foreign direct investment in technology and manufacturing, particularly as multinational companies diversify their Asian supply bases amid concerns over China.

Citing the president’s speech, Dr. Kulkarni also highlighted India’s more than 7 percent annual GDP growth since 2000, expected 6.5 percent growth over the next five years and ambitions to become a $5 trillion economy by 2028, as well as improvements to the business climate and balance sheet. She pointed to advancements in education, especially for women, and financial inclusion efforts that have led to hundreds of millions of bank accounts, deep mobile payment penetration and more than half a billion Internet users, the majority of them in rural areas. 

India is slated to surpass China in population soon, and the “one-fifth of humanity” that Dr. Kulkarni and her predecessors have represented continues to focus on its growing innovation ecosystem, STEM capabilities, health advances and business services sectors, all while incentivizing manufacturing. A $26 billion production incentive scheme in 14 sectors has been enacted nationally, she said. 

India is also looking outward in its economic engagements. Bilateral trade between India and the Southeastern U.S. states the consulate covers is up to $16.7 billion in 2022 and is expected to eclipse $18 billion this year.

According to U.S. trade data, Georgia exports to India grew to more than a billion dollars annually in 2021, up from around $400 million in 2016. 

Many states are waking up to the potential. South Carolina, which operates a trade and investment office in Delhi, led a mission to the country in December, splitting into two groups traveling to Delhi and Chennai as well as Ahmedabad and Bangalore, respectively.

According to the consulate, they met with 28 companies in six days. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...