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First U.S.-India Friendship Summit a success in promoting people-to-people relationships, conversations

From Cold War suspicion and caricaturing to budding 21st century respect and economic collaboration, the relationship between India and the United States has been both fraught and rich.

When it comes to political theater and the peddling of soft power, the world’s two largest democracies, at several points in the past two decades, have resembled no one so much as each other. And in that, the two nations have forged a widening, deepening friendship, even amid internal and external crises. That was a crucial message in the Oct. 7 inaugural U.S.-India Friendship Summit convened at Creighton University, which brought together political, cultural and academic luminaries from both countries to talk about the state of Indian and American ties.

With both nations undergoing a reexamination of democratic values in the wake of populist movements, the day-long Summit, organized by Creighton’s Asian World Center and the India Association of Nebraska, sought to speak to the direct and individual ties Indians and Americans enjoy, regardless of political difference.

“Whether it’s Republicans or Democrats in America or the (Indian National) Congress or the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in India, the fundamentals of the relationship between our two countries are sound and will survive political change in either country,” said Hon. Shashi Tharoor, PhD, a former United Nations Undersecretary General and current Member of Parliament for the Indian National Congress, to applause. “The transformation of the India-U.S. relationship from estrangement to strategic partnership is well advanced and the relationship has clearly acquired a depth that goes beyond the utilitarian measurement of successful transactions, even if it faces the occasional setback.”

More than 300 people turned out to take part in the Summit at Creighton, with well more than 500 people also watching via a worldwide livestream of the event. Plenary speakers and panel conversations discussed the past, present and future of India-U.S. relations and generally celebrated two countries that continue to strengthen the bonds between one another.

Creighton President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, addressed the Summit and has visited India on several occasions and has made a study of the nation’s poetic, religious and educational touchstones. He called for renewed efforts at cultural, political and economic exchange as inroads to greater cooperation and understanding as the world looks to the oldest democracy, the U.S., and the largest one, in India.

“Both of our countries will benefit from increased collaboration and better understanding of each other’s culture,” Fr. Hendrickson said. “The benefits would be far-ranging, including economic advantages and technological innovation. The fate of our two nations, which are beacons of hope for humanity, can indeed determine the future of our planet. It is therefore critical that we grow even more in common understanding, so that together we can truly be a beacon to all who are aspiring for the greater good.”

The Summit opened with an address from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who represents Illinois’ 8th U.S. Congressional District, and who was born in New Delhi. His parents immigrated to the U.S. when Krishnamoorthi was three months old.

Krishnamoorthi’s district has one of the highest concentrations of Indian-Americans in the country, and he turned to that fact as an illustration of the corollary rise of India and the U.S.

“Many of you came to this country, like my family, with nothing in your pockets,” Krishnamoorthi said. “But you brought your culture. You brought your traditions. You brought your values and you brought your work ethic. And now look at you. You are a success in the greatest country the world has ever known, the United States of America. And you are the pride of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known, India.”

The Summit also featured Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska’s 1st District, who has taken part in trade delegations to India. Former Nebraska Rep. Tom Osborne and former Nebraska governor, U.S. senator and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns both spoke, as did Charles Morrison, PhD, past president of the East-West Center and Tarun Vishay, one of India’s leading intellectuals, a former Member of Parliament, and the philosophical mentor to India’s two currently ruling political parties, the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

From an economic bent, the Summit was highlighted by addresses from Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, Amit Chandra, head of Bain Capital in India, and Raj Kalathur, CFO of Deere & Co.

And cultural conversations with Mary Kane, CEO of Sister Cities International and famed Indian novelist Suketu Mehta, helped further the conversation on the cross-currents between the two nations, who pride themselves on freedom of expression, a free press and a rich, variegated cultural palette.

“This was indeed a historical event that we had at Creighton University and in the United States for the first-ever friendship summit between the U.S. and India,” said Maorong Jiang, PhD, director of the Asian World Center and a Creighton professor of political science who jointly organized the Summit. “There are other summits between the U.S. and India, such as on trade, business and IT, but not one with a focus on promoting the people-to-people friendship and exploring opportunities for collaboration between US cities and Indian cities. In that regard, I believe we met with a successful exchange of ideas and strengthened the understanding between our nations.”

Sanjay Singh, MD, chair and professor of the Department of Neurology in the Creighton School of Medicine, is a past president of the India Association of Nebraska and convened the Summit.

“In this time of great turmoil in the world, it is indeed important that the two beacons of hope for democracy, human rights and human values in general should come together and serve as a beacon of hope for humanity. It is more important than it has ever been.”

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