A delegation led by the mayor of the Indian city of Ahmedabad visited Atlanta this week to formally enter its application to become a sister city with the Georgia capital.
Amit Shah and his family visited Atlanta for a forum that drew representatives from many of Atlanta’s current and potential sister cities to share best practices on simplifying public transit and providing green space in municipalities around the world.
Atlanta’s relationship with Ahmedabad, a city of more than 3 million people in the Indian state of Gujarat, has not yet been formalized, but organizers project that the application will have no problem being confirmed.
“Finally we have a dream that is coming true and pretty soon we’ll see that happen,” said Jitu Patel, head of Ahmedabad’s sister city committee in Atlanta.
Even without the formal relationship, signs of tangible cooperation between the two cities are already evident.
During his stay here, Mr. Shah signed a memorandum of understanding with Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin sealing both cities’ commitment to work with each other on environmental issues.
He also toured the proposed route of Atlanta’s Beltline Project, a conceptual network of green space and trails connecting different areas of the city by rail and bus lines. For now, the Beltline only exists on paper, but area companies have already contributed a few million dollars to the project.
The Beltline plan shows sensitivity toward the environment Mr. Shah said he can take back to his city.
“To save energy is a worldwide problem, and we can learn so much from Atlanta,” Mr. Shah told GlobalAtlanta.
Vatsal Bhatt, an Ahmedabad-born energy analyst at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York City, said the memorandum is part of a broader plan he hatched with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to foster cooperation between the U.S. and India on environmental issues.
The existing ties between Atlanta and Ahmedabad and their potential sister city relationship provided fertile ground for his work, prompting a visit to Atlanta to coincide with Mr. Shah’s. In fact, sister cities have been a good starting point in selecting cities for potential collaboration, he said.
“Let’s take the existing partnership rather than reinvent the wheel, … take the sure thing and go with it,” Mr. Bhatt said.
While the environment was a main focus of the mayoral delegation’s visit, the cities share other ties that could be strengthened with a formal sister city bond.
Principal among these is a shared concern for human rights that was on full display when the delegation visited the King Center to pay homage to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights legacy and examine Mohandas K. Gandhi’s role in providing the precedent for Dr. King’s methods of civil disobedience and passive resistance.
Mr. Shah and other delegates placed flowers on the tomb of Dr. King and his late wife, Coretta Scott King, and visited the Gandhi statue, which as of this year will have been stationed outside the King Center for a decade.
Sanjeev Mehta, a delegate based in Gujarat and president of the Indian Council of Young Political Leaders, said Gandhi’s independence movement gained early momentum in Ahmedabad and that collaboration between his city and Atlanta could foster understanding between India and America. At a luncheon held in honor of Mr. Shah at the King center, Mr. Mehta sang one of Gandhi’s favorite songs.
The King Center has always strived to show its 1 million annual visitors Gandhi’s importance to Dr. King’s thought process, according to Isaac Farris, Dr. King’s nephew and the center’s CEO.
“One of the things we try to get (visitors) to understand is Mahatma Gandhi’s role in the American Civil Rights Movement,” Mr. Farris said, adding that the Mr. Shah and his delegation could consider the King Center their home in Atlanta.
He also expressed excitement about the prospect of a sister city relationship and said a delegation from the center is tentatively planning to visit Ahmedabad in October.
Ms. Franklin visited Ahmedabad in January on a trip with Atlanta-based humanitarian group, CARE, for a project to help lift India’s women out of poverty.
While environmental and humanitarian issues took center stage at the luncheon, Mr. Shah and others in the delegation and here in Atlanta noticed opportunities for business relationships.
“Ahmedabad is opening up for infrastructure development,” said Dilipkumar Mahajan, the city’s deputy municipal commissioner. “There’s a need for technological capacity building in the city.”
Mr. Shah told GlobalAtlanta that information technology is a key sector for business collaboration.
Subash Razdan, who chairs the board of the Gandhi Foundation USA, an organization formed in anticipation of the installation of the Gandhi statue at the King historic site, said there will be a celebration of the statue’s decade-long tenure here later this year.