Washington: India’s history and teachings have influenced, and shaped the world, US Vice President Kamala Harris has said, asserting the country has inspired millions of people through its philosophy.
She also lauded the extraordinary impact Indian-Americans have made in the US with a historic number of members of the United States Congress being of Indian heritage.
She also said India is a “very important” part of her life and that she is deeply connected to the country.
“The history and teachings in India and of India have not only influenced me, they, of course, have shaped the entire globe,” Harris said in her address at a luncheon hosted by her and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the honour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
“Throughout history, India has inspired millions of people around the world, whether through philosophy and theology, the power of civil disobedience, or the commitment to democracy,” the 58-year-old Democratic Party leader said.
“As I look around this room, I am struck by the extraordinary impact Indian Americans have had on our country in every facet of life,” she said.
Take, for example, the historic number of members of the United States Congress with Indian heritage: Representatives Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Shri Thanedar. And they’re known as the “Samosa Caucus,” for those of you who did not know, she said.
“And around our country, we see the impact of Indian Americans, from the C suites of American companies to neighbourhood businesses, from the studios of Hollywood to university research labs across our country,” Harris added.
Harris, during her remarks, recalled her journeys to India when she was a child.
“India is a very important part of my life,” she said.
“When my sister Maya and I were growing up, our mother would take us from the Bay Area to India pretty much every other year. The purpose of those trips were many, including that we would well understand where she came from, what produced her; so that we could spend time with our grandparents, with my uncle and our chittis; and to really understand the love of good idli,” she said amidst laughter from the guests at the luncheon held at the US Department of State.
“We travelled to visit my grandparents in what was then called Madras. And I will tell you, my grandfather was one of the most favourite people in my life, truly. We were pen pals, in fact, throughout my childhood,” she said.
Harris said her grandfather had a great influence on her.
“I was the eldest grandchild. And so, as I’m sure many of you know, culturally, to be the eldest has a certain significance. And so, I took full advantage of that status in our family. And my grandfather, of course, convinced me — as he did, I think, every one of his grandchildren — that we were his favourite. Yet, on those visits, I was the only member of our family that my grandfather allowed to join him for his morning routine,” Harris said.
“You see, by the time that we were going there as children, my grandfather was retired from his career as a civil servant. And his morning routine, every morning, consisted of taking long walks on the beach with his retired buddies. And they, as retired civil servants, would debate the issues of the day,” said the vice president.
“I would hold my grandfather’s hand on these walks and listen intently to him and his friends. I will tell you, as a young girl, I don’t think I fully appreciated the essence and the import of the debates that they would have. But, I did clearly understand and do recall stories about the freedom fighters and the nation’s founding heroes and about the independence of India. I remember them talking about the importance of fighting corruption and fighting for equality, regardless of one’s belief or caste,” she said.
The Vice President said conversations with her grandfather at a young age influenced her thinking.
“Throughout these walks, I recall my grandfather teaching me lessons about not just what it means to have a democracy but to keep democracy. I do believe it is these lessons that I learned at a very young age that first inspired my interest in public service. I look back now and I do fully realise how much these conversations influenced me and my thinking, and how they have guided me ever since,” she added.
“In fact, it is a large part of who I am today — these lessons I learned from my grandfather, P.V. Gopalan, and from the dedication, determination, and courage of his daughter, my mother, Shyamala. And it is that is the reason that I stand before you today as vice president of the United States,” Harris said.
She thanked Prime Minister Modi for his role of leadership to help India emerge as a global power in the 21st century.
“You have helped to reinvigorate the Quad. Your leadership of the G20 is making new strides on climate finance. And you have been a proponent of international institutions and global solutions to global challenges,” she said.
“And as a point of personal privilege, as chair of the National Space Council, I thank you for your leadership in space and for our joint work on an earth science satellite, which will help us address the climate crisis. And I will also thank you because when you and I first met at the White House, I asked you to join the Artemis Accords: a commitment to the safe and transparent use of space. I am happy to report, as you have, that you have joined the Artemis Accords,” she added.
“Over the past two and a half years, you and I have advanced cooperation on climate, clean energy, terrorism, cybercrime, public health, and vaccine production. And during this trip, our countries have launched new areas of cooperation from artificial intelligence to semiconductors,” she added.
During his address to the US Congress on Thursday, Modi said, “There are millions here who have roots in India. Some of them sit proudly in this chamber. There is one behind me, who has made history.”
He was referring to Harris, the first woman vice president and the highest-ranking female official in US history, as well as the first African-American and first Asian-American vice president.
Harris’ mother Shyamala Gopalan, a breast cancer scientist, hailed from Chennai.