Defence Minister A K Antony, on his maiden visit to the United States, lauded the Indian American community for their sustained activism and lobbying on behalf of the India-US civilian nuclear deal, which he said was catalytic in helping to fructify it.
Antony was speaking at a reception, organised by the Indian American community of the Washington, DC metropolitan area, at the Indian embassy.
The audience comprised over 150 people, some of whom had traveled from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Florida to listen to the defence minister.
"You played a major role in shaping public opinion in India and the US," Antony said.
"I am not flattering you. But your focused, steadfast support helped us clinch this deal, and for this I express my gratitude," he added
Antony started his speech by saying, "Today I am before you, not as the Defence Minister of India, but simply as A K Antony from India to see my brothers and sisters who are living tens of thousands of miles from India."
He heaped praise on the Indian-American community for "doing a lot of things, more than the people of India, to present a better image of India throughout the world, especially in the US."
"You are the pride of India," he said and added that there was a time when the Indian- American community was not given its due respect, but that had completely changed today because Indian-Americans had excelled in every endeavour.
"You are the best ambassadors of India," Antony said, and added that India-US relations had never been better.
This was a far cry from the days of the Cold war when ties between Washington and New Delhi were chilly and "India and the US could not get along on a lot of issues," he recalled.
"But those are things of the past," Antony added and predicted a "a new momentum will gather as this relationship is beneficial to both the countries.'
The Defence Minister referred to the slew of agreements between the US and India in the last few years -- following the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US in 2005 -- which would help alleviate the lot "of the common people in India and help in the economic development of India."
"Everybody agrees that India is becoming a major global economic power," he said.
Antony added, "No relationship will be permanent unless it is mutually beneficial and that is why I am sure the India-US relationship will move faster in the years to come."
Saying that the representatives of the three services -- Army, Navy and Air Force -- were accompanying him, he spoke of the cordial relations all of them had with the US defence services, and described at some length the joint exercises India and the US have been engaged in the past few years since the first Malabar Exercise.
"Now the Army, Navy and Air Force have regular exercises with the armed services of the US," he said.
"All this help to exemplify the professionalism of the Indian services," Antony said and disclosed that at the end of October, the navies of the two countries would be engaged in joint exercises off the Malabar Coast.
"The Chinese Army is coming," the defence minister added on a lighter note "but not for anything, just for exercises."
Antony was obviously moved by the reception in his honour, which began with several heads of the various community organisations in the Washington, DC area presenting him with bouquets of flowers and shawls. He was introduced by two fellow Keralites -- Dr Parthasarathy Pillai and John 'Sunny' Wycliffe -- who have known him since his student activism days.
"I see several friends here after so many years. In fact, this is a family get together," Antony said nostalgically.
Pillai, the chief coordinator of the event, hails from the same Chertala Taluk and legislative constituency as Antony. "He is known for his unflinching commitment to the great ideology of Mahatma Gandhi," he said.
Wycliffe said, "He is well known for his simple, transparent life. He is a very humble man and as defence minister of India, he is the one who stood for and still practices the principles of Mahatma Gandhi's ideology."
"He is Kerala's greatest gift to India and very soon you will find him shouldering greater and greater responsibilities to build up India," he predicted.
Earlier, Ambassador Ronen Sen thanked Pillai and the others "for taking this initiative of organising this community reception consisting of all prominent Indian-Americans in the greater Washington area."
"The honourable defence minister is not only one of the senior-most political leaders of our country, but he's a multi-faceted personality with many accomplishments," the ambassador said and pointed out that Antony was a lawyer, businessman, grass-roots political worker "who still has a finger on the pulse of the people."
The Indian ambassador pointed out that Antony had even worked as an editor and publisher.
Sen thanked the Indian-American community "for all the wonderful work that you've done in promoting India-US relations. Many of you have contributed a great deal and I want to acknowledge that, to promote this historic civilian nuclear cooperation agreement."