Keynote Speech for Indian Independence Day Banquet of the National Council of Asian Indian Associations (NCAIA)

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Greenbelt, MD
August 26, 2012

Thank you for that kind introduction. Honor to be on the dais with Ambassador Rao, who has done such a great job representing India in this complicated country of ours! Thank you also to the National Council of Asian Indian Associations (NCAIA) for inviting me to speak to you tonight.

I want to congratulate NCAIA President Benoy Thomas on planning such an impressive event to celebrate India’s Independence Day.

The contributions of groups like NCAIA in promoting cooperation and friendship between the U.S. and India is immense. You contribute not only to the rich mosaic of American society, but enhance the breadth and depth of cooperation between the U.S. and India.

Before I go any further, let me take a moment to honor the memory of the victims of the tragic and senseless attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin earlier this month. As President Obama noted in his call with Prime Minister Singh, the Sikh community is an essential and vibrant part of the American family. As we celebrate and toast this evening, we should also remember those innocent victims. Our hearts are also with the families and friends of the Temple, and with the Sikh community worldwide.

As a proud resident of the great state of Maryland, it is an honor to be here tonight with so many officials from the great state of Maryland who have invested their time and energy in growing the U.S.-India partnership: Lieutenant Governor Brown, Attorney General Gansler, and so many other distinguished Maryland politicians.

Maryland has been at the forefront of the growing network of U.S.-India state-to-state partnerships. Over the last several years we have seen delegations of Maryland entrepreneurs, academics, and civil society leaders traveling to India and collaborating with their Indian counterparts.

But tonight we are here to celebrate and congratulate India on the 65th anniversary of its independence. As Secretary Clinton said in her statement to mark this, “From the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi to independence in 1947 through today, India continues to stand as a beacon for the world of the power of nonviolence and the promise of democracy.”

As someone privileged to represent the U.S. in New Delhi a few years ago, I had the honor of twice attending the annual Independence Day address given by the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort. I was always moved by the pageantry, the rich history this ceremony reflects, and the memories of Pandit Nehru’s famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech.

In many ways the U.S. and India are fulfilling our own destinies as we cooperate ever more closely together. Since India’s independence, and most notably over the last decade, we have woven the tapestry of cooperation into one of the broadest and deepest bilateral relationships in the world. Today, this is a relationship that knows no limits. On virtually every field of human endeavor, the United States and India are partnering to shape a more secure and prosperous environment not just in our two countries, but throughout the world.

That is why our two governments elevated our relationship to that of a Strategic Dialogue in 2009, the third session of which we held in June of this year. It is producing real results for the well-being and security of our two peoples.

To take but one example, trade between our two countries is up 40 percent since we began our Strategic Dialogue three years ago, and it may exceed, we hope, a hundred billion dollars this year.

But, as Secretary Clinton has said: “The problems we face today will not be solved by governments alone. It will be in partnerships - partnerships with philanthropy, with global business, partnerships with civil society."

That is where all of you, the incredible citizens of both of our countries, have played such an important role. Today, we share with India a vibrant two-way exchange of entrepreneurs, executives, students, professors, and scientists that has come to serve as a model for others around the world. Our business ties have reshaped global commerce. Our education and research partnerships are forging new paradigms of innovation.

And the common thread -- from the classrooms of Chennai and College Park to the boardrooms in Bangalore and Baltimore -- is the passionate and committed Indian American community.

One new area of cooperation is our effort to enhance U.S.-India state-to-state and city-to-city dialogues. We have been working with Reta Jo Lewis, the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, to foster greater political, economic and cultural ties between our cities and states.

Think of all the exciting economic growth and activity in Indian states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat and in American states like California, New York, and, of course, Maryland. These states act as laboratories of innovation and new partnerships that we should leverage to deepen the overall U.S.-India partnership.

As you all know, Maryland Governor O’Malley went to India last December – in fact, some of you may have accompanied him—and upon his return to Annapolis announced nearly $60 million worth of business deals for Maryland companies.

Economic engagements ranged from discussions of biotechnology, renewable energy and infrastructure, to commitments to increase Indian imports at Maryland’s harbors, to agreements for a Baltimore-based firm to help construct an amusement park in Mumbai.

Another promising area that is strengthening our people to people ties is in higher education. At this June’s U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue, we announced eight new collaborative projects between Indian and American colleges and universities under the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative focusing on priority fields such as food security, climate change, sustainable energy, and public health.

Likewise, the State Department’s Passport to India initiative is another way that we are promoting what Secretary Clinton calls “smart power.” The goal of Passport to India is to significantly increase the number of Americans who visit India for a study and learning experience abroad. The Passport to India initiative is a public-private partnership.

To date, we have pledges from both U.S. and Indian private entities to support 225 internship opportunities for American students over the next 3 years in India-based organizations. American interns work side by side with Indian peers on innovation and management practices in manufacturing firms, on software development in IT companies, and on the needs of the marginalized and underserved with local NGOs.

It all comes down to one thing: By building the next generation of leaders who are well versed in each other’s culture, language and business, we will be better prepared to work together and resolve common challenges for the benefit of not only our two countries, but for the international community as well.

While we all are proud of the progress our two countries have made in our journey together, there is so much more we can do and we need all of your help and advice. This room alone is full of so much talent, as well as a unique and personal knowledge of your home country. That is a powerful combination. You know the United States and you know India and you know the limitless potential that exists when we get together.

Together, all of us working in concert can help shape one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century and, in the process, help transform the world. Thank you!