During an annual celebration of India’s constitution, Georgia leaders praised the country’s diaspora community as a source of talent and civic engagement in metro Atlanta and beyond.
Consul General Nagesh Singh, whose office hosted the Republic Day reception and dinner at the Westin Perimeter North Jan. 28, went unscripted for a moment as he praised the accomplishments of his countrymen.
Mr. Singh joked that he was being a little “upstart-ish” as he rattled off the many accolades that accompany the label “Indian-American.” The nearly 4 million-strong group is among the best educated and highest earning in the nation. They also tend to be very entrepreneurial, and many have ascended to the highest rungs of the American corporate ladder: The CEOs of Google, Pepsi and Microsoft are a few examples.
But Mr. Singh quickly regained his diplomatic wits, praising the country that gave them the opportunity.
“If there is meritocracy, it exists in this country.” -Nagesh Singh, Indian Consul General in Atlanta
“If there is meritocracy, it exists in this country. Every day I hear stories from my countrymen who came here with $50, $100, $200 in their pockets,” he said. “It’s the greatness of this country that gave them the opportunity — irrespective of their origins, their faith, their color — to work hard and reach their highest.”
In politics, it has been a different story, however, according to Congressman Rob Woodall, a Republican who represents Georgia’s seventh district, a diversely populated swath of Gwinnett and north Fulton counties that is home to the largest portion of the state’s South Asian population.
Until 2008, only two Indian Americans had been elected to the U.S. Congress: Now, that’s changing, with five sitting House members taking up seats in the last decade, Mr. Woodall said.
He praised the development as a triumph, noting that Indian-Americans are among the most engaged of his constituents. Mr. Woodall pointed to a doctor in the audience who calls him periodically with constructive requests to improve the community — never complaints.
“That spirit changes everything about what it means to be a representative, constitutional republic, to be a self-governing people,” said Mr. Woodall, alluding to the reason for Republic Day: India’s enactment of a constitution in 1950, three years after it gained independence from the British empire.
The theme of the interplay between the U.S. as a land of opportunity and India as a source of economic optimism and talent continued as the speeches wore on. The countries need each other as they seek to create a world that pushes forward innovation and sustains global momentum for democracy, speakers said.
Mr. Singh, for his part, highlighted the many mechanisms that drive forward India-U.S. partnership, as well as the strong ties that have developed between the Trump administration and that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite some hand-wringing over President Donald Trump’s perceived hostility toward H-1B visa holders — skilled immigrants that mainly hail from India.
Mr. Woodall co-sponsored a bill called the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, which would remove national quotas on employment-based visas, making it easier for Indian professionals to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. Some have floated the idea of including the bill in the current immigration debate over DACA and Mr. Trump’s border wall.
The congressman said it would amount to a declaration that America is open for business, putting it into friendly competition with an Indian government under Mr. Modi that is hoping to welcome more diaspora members home.
“I don’t want to disagree with you, consul general, but we’re going to have a new message in town, and that is: ‘Come and stay and grow and build with us,’” Mr. Woodall said, to applause from the largely Indian-American audience. “We are coming for his talent.”
Chief among those talented Indians is Mr. Singh, Mr. Woodall said, appealing to the community to lobby the prime minister to keep the consul general in place here in metro Atlanta beyond the standard three- to four-year term.
Similarly, longtime Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, now a 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate, used his designation as the event’s chief guest to talk about what has become as signature issue: education and workforce development.
The Indian community experience is a perfect example of how education begets economic mobility, Mr. Cagle said, noting that Georgia has to deliver this promise for every student.
“I don’t believe you have to be trapped in that set of circumstances. Education is the great equalizer,” he said.
Mayor Rusty Paul of Sandy Springs, which is home to the Indian Consulate General, visited India last April, taking time to see the dynamism of the company’s manufacturing and technology scenes.
“I was so impressed. Your young people are amazing,” Mr. Paul said, before also praising American youth. “It’s amazing that they’re going to be able to do together in the 21st century.”
See a tabla and sitar performance here: