By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
You may think that the United States is the largest democracy in the world.
Well, it actually isn’t. The largest democracy in the world is India, with its population of 1.2 billion. India also had its first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in 1966 and its first female president, Pratibha Patil, in 2007, both way ahead of the United States.
These historical facts were mentioned at a recent reception honoring the Consul General of India, Sanjay Panda, which was held at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) on March 23. More than 60 people attended, including political and community leaders.
Panda is stationed in San Francisco. This was his first visit to Seattle. The timing for Panda’s visit was perfect for our Indian community. The Indian community has become a powerhouse. Washington state elected Pramila Jayapal to Congress in 2016, the first Indian American to serve in Congress. In Washington’s legislature, Mona Das assumed office as state senator earlier this year, and Vandana Slatter has served as a state representative since 2017. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella is of Indian descent. The late Vikram Jandhyala, a high-ranking official of University of Washington, had advised 400 start-ups in Washington state.
Currently, there are more than 100,000 Indian Americans living in Greater Seattle area, according to the census data, and the number is rising.
Panda said he was “absolutely impressed by the community.” Since the late 2009, the community, led in part by Debadutta Dash, co-chair of Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee (WASITRAC), and many others worked have hard to gain a consul office in either Bellevue or Seattle.
Initially, the hope of having a consul office was destroyed in 2011, when the Indian government decided to pick Atlanta instead of Seattle, according to the Northwest Asian Weekly.
But then in 2013, India Ambassador Nirupama Rao announced in Seattle that the government had approved a consulate office in Seattle. About a year or so later, President Narendra Modi of India came to the United States and announced in Congress that Seattle was picked to set up a consul office.
By 2017, Indian government officials were looking at Union Square as the site for its future consul office, as other foreign consul offices are located in downtown Seattle.
(Thus, the City of Bellevue is definitely out of the running now.)
However, any new consul office is a bilateral agreement between the United States and the India government. According to Panda, his government has been doing all the work and is waiting for the green light from the U.S. side. He said he urges “the community to put pressure on the State Department.” He said Japayal has been helping to work on the federal government. The new office would serve not only Washington state, but Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.
Congressman Adam Smith agreed with Panda that a consul office is important to Washington state, “We deserve to have a consul office.”
Dash said he doesn’t know the real reason why the new consul office of India is not getting it clearance from the State Department. “We need to find out why. The community needs to push.”
Panda also said the tie between India and the United States is historical. He said India’s Freedom Movement first sparked in California in the early 1900s.
Panda has achieved the ambassador rank because of his number of years as a diplomat, serving all over the world, including Jordan, France, Malaysia, China, Tokyo, Sicily, and San Francisco.
At the event, MOHAI also announced that its Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation exhibit would be coming to the museum from November to January 2020. The exhibit was created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.