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India’s 71st Independence Day celebrated in Washington

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Ambassador Sarna hoists tricolor, greets diaspora on India’s 71st Independence Day

Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna hoisting the tricolor on India’s 71st Independence Day celebration in Washington

Washington, DC – Indian Americans imbued with a patriotic zeal packed the Embassy Residence Tuesday morning to celebrate India’s 7oth year of independence.

At the outset, Ambassador Navtej Sarna hoisted the tricolor which was followed by the crowd joining in a rendition of India’s national anthem on the well-manicured lawn.  Heavy downpours caused the remainder of the program to be held indoors where the envoy read Indian President Ram Nath Kovind’s address on the eve of India’s independence day.

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Speaking to journalists, Ambassador Sarna conveyed “warmest greetings to the entire Indian community and all friends and well-wishers of India in the United States on the 71st independence day”.  Noting that it is a very proud occasion, he said, “We have much to celebrate and we also have much to pledge for the future, the making of a new India”.

Talented students of the Gandharva School of Music performing at the Independence Day celebration in Washington. Seen second from right is Ambassador Navtej Sarna, and at right is Deputy Chief of Mission Santosh Jha

On hand at the event were: Deputy Chief of Mission Santosh Jha; former Indian Ambassador to the US, Mrs. Nirupama Rao (2011-13); senior embassy officials and their families; uniformed members of the Indian Armed Forces — army, navy and air force; students of Richmond-based Gandharva School of Music who sang patriotic songs; and a sizeable contingent of Indian American activists.

Ambassador Rao, currently a Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, is well known for her eloquence and she extended “warmest greetings” to all Indians on the 71st anniversary of independence which, she said, “tells us many things”.

A cross-section of the gathering at India’s Independence Day celebration held at the Embassy Residence in Washington

“We must never forget the sacrifices made by all the freedom fighters, our greatest generation — Mahatma Gandhi, and all the members of the freedom movement.  So, freedom is more than a sacred word, it’s a sacred concept.  And today, 70 years into our existence as an independent nation, we must reflect on all that we have achieved and have a firm resolve and determination to achieve much greater things so that India can become the superpower, the global power that it is destined to be”, she said.

Drawing attention to Prime Minister Modi’s independence day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi during which he emphasized that all Indians must have the determination that they can change things and that they will not be content with the here and now, Ambassador Rao said, “We must strive for a much better future for all of us especially the women of India, the children of India who need all our help and support at this moment”.

Reflecting on her tenure as New Delhi’s top diplomat in Washington, she enthused, “I have wonderful memories of my stay here”.

Among the guests at the Embassy function was Udit Sharma, a consultant, currently enrolled in a post-graduate Public Policy Management course at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bangalore.  Sharma is in the US with 22 of his peers as part of a student exchange program at Syracuse University in New York.

“The objective is to understand how public administration is run in the US”, he told us about the two-week program.  “We came here to understand major policies like healthcare, education, infrastructure, and public-private partnerships.  The course (one year with four semesters) has an international component which examines how India differs from other countries in terms of public policy”, he said.

Former Indian Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, flanked by guests at the Indian Independence Day celebration held at the Embassy Residence in Washington

About the cultural performances at the independence day celebration, Nirmal Bajekal, founder and director of the Gandharva School of Music which specializes in Hindustani classical music, told us, “All these kids are born here, but they learnt Punjabi, Hindi songs which is incredible”.

We spoke to the students, who ranged in age from 9 to 17 years, about their performance at the ambassador’s official residence.  Arghya Shetty, a senior at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, affirmed, “Since we are born and brought up here, it is very important to stay connected to our Indian roots.  Getting an opportunity to connect with our heritage is a blessing”.

Ashrita Krishnamurthy told us, “We are really honored and humbled to be able to perform here today.  We were really excited and grateful for this opportunity”.

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Soham Apte, a senior at Glen Allen High School in Henrico County, Virginia, gushed, “It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The three-hour drive to reach here was worth it because this is an experience that not many people get to avail of.  Having our talents recognized is, I think, the biggest blessing, especially by such prominent people”, he said.

What does India’s independence mean to you, we asked.  “India’s independence means everything to me”, Soham replied. “I read a lot of writings by the revolutionaries, Indian freedom fighters, and see how their dedication was rewarded even in death.  It’s amazing to live in their footsteps as an Indian.  I’m very proud of my heritage,” he said.