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Remarks by Ambassador Nirupama Rao at a reception hosted in honor of Congressman Gary Ackerman

(19 July)

Congressman Gary Ackerman
Hon’ble Members of Congress
Distinguished guests

We have assembled today to bid farewell to Congressman Gary Ackerman – one of the stalwarts and highly respected Members of the United States Congress, and someone who we look upon in India with great affection.

It was with some sadness that we learnt of Mr. Ackerman’s announcement to retire from the U.S. Congress, but we respect his decision knowing how well he deserves to take time out after 34 years of very distinguished public service. 

In his long and illustrious career – first as a New York State Senator, and then as a Member of Congress for fifteen terms, Mr. Ackerman has earned many feathers in his cap and is credited for a number of significant legislative measures, including the “Baby AIDS” legislation, and the “Heroes” postage stamp – to name a few.  As a senior Democratic leader in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he has a formidable reputation as a foreign policy expert on Capitol Hill.

For us in India, Mr. Ackerman stands for all that defines the India-U.S. relationship today – as a strong partnership based on common values and shared strategic interests. Congressman Ackerman’s support and encouragement has remained a tremendous source of strength in our efforts to promote India-U.S. relations for the last almost two decades now. 

He stood by India when India-U.S. relations did not generate as much excitement or appear as significant as they do today.  He spoke of the importance and potential of our partnership at a time when it was difficult to imagine that we would achieve the depth and expanse in our relationship as we do today.  His contributions to the historic India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement is widely recognized and deeply appreciated in India.

Congressman Ackerman always spoke with conviction about India’s strengths and with sensitivity to her concerns. When our Parliament was attacked on December 13, 2001, and again when Mumbai came under the siege of terrorists crossing borders into India in November 2008 , Congressman Ackerman was there as the leading voice from the U.S. empathizing with and expressing support to our countrymen.

After the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, Congressman Ackerman wrote to Prime Minister Vajpayee, “As Members of the United States Congress, we were particularly affected by the fact that this atrocity occurred at one of the world's most prominent institutions of democracy”. He added, “As we continue our shared commitment to end the scourge of terrorism, we shall help to ensure that the victims of the Parliament attack shall not have died in vain.”

In a statement in the U.S. Congress after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, Mr. Ackerman said: “This attack was not the first terrorist incident in India, nor even in Mumbai. Long before September 11, India already had an unfortunately long history of combating terrorists and has seen far too many of its citizens and even its leaders killed by terrorism. But I don’t think we should simply add the latest outrage to the long list of similar outrages. The attack in Mumbai had some significant characteristics to it that require us all to sit up and take notice.”

His vision of India-U.S. partnership, though, is not merely through the prism of the threat of terrorism faced by our two democracies. In one of his statements, Mr. Ackerman noted, “While India and the United States are united as democracies that have been the victims of horrendous terrorist violence…, our relationship is by no means limited to our alliance in the war on terrorism.”

Congressman Ackerman saw in India a natural partner. During a Congressional hearing on South Asia last year, he described India as "The brightest light in South Asia's constellation and the strategic centre of gravity for the region".  He added, "As the world's largest democracy, India is a natural partner for the United States”.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of Congressman Ackerman to India-U.S. relations was the untiring commitment and the personal dedication with which he led and shaped the "Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans" in the House of Representatives. The fact that the India Caucuses – both in the House and the Senate – are today regarded as the largest country-specific caucuses is a tribute to Mr. Ackerman’s vision for our relationship and a vindication of the confidence he reposed in the potential of our partnership.  He saw the power of people in our engagement and recognized the value of working with the Indian American community much ahead of time.

It was in recognition of this seminal role he played in building strong bridges of friendship between the oldest and largest democracies in the world that the Government of India honored Mr. Ackerman with Padma Bhushan – one of India’s highest civilian awards – in 2002.

Ladies and Gentleman, today as we celebrate Mr. Ackerman’s rich contributions to both the United States and India, and to their peoples, we know we will miss him in the Congress. For those of us who know him well, Mr. Ackerman will always remain an embodiment of friendship, bipartisanship, civility and humility.  And of course, his smiling face and the white carnation boutonniere that he sported each day are an integral part of that imagery!

But we also believe that outside Congress and after you retire, you will continue to guide us and support our endeavors towards the causes you held so dear to your heart and will continue to play an important role in this unfolding saga of a great partnership between our countries built upon common values, converging interests, and a shared vision of the world.

We wish you and your wife Rita a very pleasant beginning of a new phase of your life – one that is full of health, happiness and peace.  We hope you will have a well-deserved opportunity to spend time with your children and grand-children. But we also hope that you will continue visiting Washington DC and to your legendary home at Unsinkable II in the Potomac!

Once again, my sincerest thanks to all of you for joining us amidst your busy schedules in bidding Mr. Ackerman a warm farewell.

Thank you very much!