The conveners of the Global Indian Institutes of Technology Alumni Conference in Washington, DC -- 'Technology Without Borders,' that begins May 20 and runs through the weekend -- could not have wished for a bigger boost in the run-up to the biennial parley than House Resolution 227.
The Resolution that was adopted unanimously by the US House of Representatives late last month heaped kudos on the IITs and the contributions of its alumni to American society and this country's economy.
The resolution, authored by Congressman Tom Davis, Virginia Republican -- at the urging of Sudhakar Shenoy, founder-CEO, IMC Inc and co-chair of the convention -- and co-sponsored by dozens of lawmakers, declared that the House of Representatives 'recognises the valuable and significant contributions of Indian-Americans to American society; honors the economic innovation attributable to graduates of the Indian Institutes of Technology; and urges all Americans to recognise the contributions of Indian-Americans and have a greater appreciation of the role Indian-Americans have played in helping to advance and enrich American society.'
Congressional sources said they could not remember a time when Congress had paid such a singular honor to a foreign institution on higher learning.
The resolution, which followed proclamations by the Governors of Maryland and Virginia Robert Ehrlich Jr and Mark Warner, respectively, declaring May as Indian-American Heritage and IIT Graduate Month, had lawmakers from both sides of the aisle virtually lining up to sing the praises of the IIT alumni and the Indian-American community.
Shenoy, a Republican Party stalwart and major contributor to the GOP, is a friend of Davis and other Virginia lawmakers in Congress, both Republican and Democrat. He recently traveled with Governor Warner to India. He told rediff.com that the resolution came about after a dinner he had with Davis about a month ago.
"I told him that the state of Maryland and Virginia had issued proclamations welcoming our upcoming conference and declaring May as IIT month and whether there is a possibility that he can do the same in Congress and he said, 'Absolutely.'"
"He had already been very excited about our conference and had in fact agreed to host a Congressional reception for us on the Capitol Hill Rotunda along with Senator George Allen (Virginia Republican), and hardly within a week he introduced the resolution and as you know, it was unanimously approved," Shenoy, who is also the chairman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, said.
"I had also met with Bobby [Jindal, Louisiana Republican] and he also promised to co-sponsor the resolution and also said he would gladly be a part of the convention and of course, as you know, he was on the floor of the House during the nearly one-hour debate -- carried live on C-Span -- praising the Indian-American community and the IITs," he added.
"I was happy to do it," Davis told rediff.com, "I wanted to do it very much and talk about the wonderful contributions that Indian-Americans have made not just to the state of Virginia but all across the United States, and the great institutions of higher learning that these Indian Institutes of Technology are."
Davis said the resolution and speaking about the contributions of the Indian-Americans to American society and economy and the IITs was "also an opportunity to talk about and clear a lot of the misperceptions that people have about the outsourcing and offshoring issue because not a day seems to go by without some reference of resolution in some state legislature or other and even in US Congress, blaming outsourcing for American job losses and so on."
"This was an opportunity to clear these misperceptions and talk about how outsourcing and offshoring has helped our economy and that this is all a part of free trade and also educate the public about the contributions by Indian-Americans and Indian businesses in helping to grow the US economy and generate jobs," he said.
Suresh Shenoy, conference chairman, told rediff.com that along with Hiten Ghosh, vice president, Hughes Network Systems and vice president of Pan-IIT, one of the hosts of the conference, and other conference organisers like Ashok Siddhanti, he had met with Davis "about three times to brief him about the conference and to provide him with information on the IITs and the contributions of the alumni and so on, and the several businesses they have started here in the US and how much they have contributed to the economy and the several thousands of jobs they have generated."
Suresh, Sudhakar's younger brother and executive vice president, IMC, acknowledged that "clearly, nothing like this would have been possible without Sudhakar's Republican connections and friendship with Tom Davis and others in the party although he was so encouraged and impressed by the achievements and contributions of the IIT alumni that he said he was not just intent to introduce a resolution but have a debate and get it unanimously approved, which was done within just a matter of days after he first introduced it."
"So now it's a permanent record in Congress about what IIT-ians have done to boost the US economy and the American workforce and the contributions of the Indian-American community to American society in general," the younger Shenoy added.
Davis, who kicked off the floor statements, said, "After winning independence in 1947, India began building a democratic nation to provide its citizens with equal opportunities and one of the successes of the new nation was the Indian Institute of Technology, or IIT, which was established in Kharagpur in May 1950."
"Today there are seven IIT campuses across India and they have become synonymous with excellence in technology and engineering education," he said.
Davis noted that 'since the inception of IIT, thousands of graduates have sought and achieved the highest levels of professional successes in the United States and indeed throughout the world. IIT graduates are estimated to have stimulated the creation of over 150,000 jobs in the US and most Silicon Valley firms have at least one IIT graduate among their top executives."
He said in his district in Northern Virginia, "We literally have dozens of IIT executives running their own companies, producing thousands of jobs."
Davis said the US has "attracted more IIT graduates than any other country because we remain on the cutting edge of the science and technology fields," and expressed his pleasure "that the House is recognising the achievements of Indian-Americans and IIT graduates in helping make the United States the global leader it is."
"Indian-Americans are wonderful ambassadors of their homeland," he declared, "and they strengthen the strong friendship between India and the United States, the two largest democratic nations in the world."
Representative Danny Davis, Illinois Democrat, in his remarks, said the high-income level of Indian-Americans "is not only an example of their determination and hard work, but it is also a testament to the strong regard they hold for education."
"The value that members of the Indian-American community place on education allows them and helps them to succeed in this country and to become positive role models and economic forces for all of us," he said.
Davis, one of the most respected and influential African-American members of Congress and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, "As our nation struggles to teach the value of education to our young, I strongly believe that we should hold in high regard the Indian-American community's commitment to higher education," and described it as 'indeed inspirational.'
Jindal was the third lawmaker on his feet and on the well of the House floor, heaping praise on the Indian-American community. He said he was 'very proud to be the son of Indian immigrants to this country,' and noted that though he was "born and raised in Louisiana, I am very proud of their background."
"Certainly, I think not only my parents but the entire Indian-American community is a great example of living the American dream, and so many stories have been told and there are so many wonderful examples."
"Certainly we can talks in terms of numbers," Jindal said. "We can talks in terms of IIT graduates who are now doing so well in Fortune 500 companies in this country. Certainly we can talk about the academic achievements. We can talk about the contributions to our high-tech industry in this country. We can talk about the contributions in medicine, in small business ownership, and the numbers are phenomenal."
He said the Indian-American community is "one of the most successful, if not the most successful, immigrant group, but I do not think the numbers tell the entire story. I think sometimes we have to look beyond the numbers and hear the personal stories."
Jindal then began to recount the story of his own father, "one of nine children, the first one in his family and the only one to go to high school, much less beyond high school, and I am certainly proud of everything my father has accomplished in this country."
"But it is not just my father, I am very proud of all the different Indian-Americans I have the privilege of meeting who have achieved so much in their respective fields, and again, a wonderful example of the American dream, a wonderful example that in this country we do provide opportunity of one works hard and pursues that education."
Jindal said he now appreciates "more and more what my parents have sacrificed, what they have endured and what they have accomplished. I appreciate more the significance of the accomplishments of the Indian-American community," and acknowledged "some of things we took for granted. I did, anyway, growing up. We did not really realise the significance of those struggles, those sacrifices, and how remarkable have been their collective and individual achievements."
He pointed out that in his state, "Indian-American physicians serve some of the neediest areas, allow emergency rooms to stay open, provide primary care to those who would not otherwise have access to care."
Jindal, who also spoke for the longest time on the floor, noted that there were more than a couple of hundred thousand Indian-American working in Silicon Valley and several hundred heading up companies there and also 'responsible for 15 per cent of the high tech start-ups in the area."
"In my home district," he said, "Indian-Americans own businesses in the largest cities to the smallest communities -- the most rural parts of my state -- employing thousands of my constituents."
In thanking Davis for authoring the resolution and his colleagues for co-sponsoring it, Jindal said, "I am very proud to not only co-sponsor the resolution but to be part of a community that is so grateful and has done so much to contribute to this country."
Representative Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said every day Indian-Americans "show their dedication not only to improving the economy and the competitiveness of this country, but in advancing a positive relationship between the United States and India."
He said the resolution "presents us with an opportunity to thank those who have made such an important impact on our society. Indian-Americans have created thousands of jobs in the US and hold senior positions at Fortune 500 companies, national labs, universities, and venture capital firms."
"And through their work as economists, researchers, educators, and social and political leaders, they have ensured that their extraordinary commitment will benefit not only this generation, but the next, as well," Menendez said.
Representative Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, in his remarks said he has first-hand knowledge of the "contributions my friends from India have made."
Pointing out that he represents the second highest concentration of Indian-Americans in the country, he said, "I have seen for myself on
74th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, how successful and industrious Indian-Americans are. That recipe for success starts with institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, which we recognise today, and the far-reaching success of their graduates."
"The IIT has had a long history of grooming fine minds that have gone on to achieve incredible success in India and around the world," Crowley said.
He said many of the top entrepreneurs and business leaders in the US today have graduated from the IIT like Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun MicroSystems to Rajat Gupta, 'the first non-North America born head of the venerable consulting company McKinsey and Company."
Crowley, in echoing Danny Davis' sentiments, argued that "I believe in today's current educational environment in the United States, we can learn from the history of how the Indian government went about establishing this institute. After Indians gained independence from the British, they formed committees to explore ways of creating an educated class of people to move the country forward."
"What they found was that to be competitive in the world they needed to excel in technology and engineering, which is where we in the United States find ourselves to be lacking today."
Crowley exhorted that "we need to follow the example of our Indian friends and the example we set in the 1960s and create a national strategy to make the way we teach our children in the United States more focused on the math and sciences so we are not left behind."
He asserted that "instead of fearing India as an economic competitor, we should be embracing India as an economic and political ally," and noted that "the over one billion consumers in India and the market for US goods and services in India allows for unprecedented opportunities for American companies, and job growth for Americans."
Representative Jim Moran, Virginia Democrat, in commending the IIT graduates "for their economic innovations and technological innovations," noted that it was aptly significant that the first IIT created in 1950 in Kharagpur was situated "at the site of the Hijli detention camp, which was used to house young Indian freedom fighters during the Independence movement."
Moran said besides IIT alumni in the US serving in senior positions in several established Fortune 500 companies, they "are also serving as deans and professors at the best universities in the United States, including Harvard, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon."
He also spoke of the impact IIT graduates have had on the US economy
and said, "Over 25 per cent of graduates since 1990 have been entrepreneurs and have started numerous companies that have fueled job creation in their communities. IIT alumni are also performing cutting edge research that is needed by US companies, and a great number have received patents for their innovations."
Moran said the effect of IIT graduates 'is felt here in the United States and throughout the world,' and added that it is imperative that 'all Americans recognise the great impact Indian-Americans and IIT graduates have had on our society and economy.'
"Without their knowledge, skill, and drive to achieve, our economy would not have as many technological innovations which enrich our daily lives," he maintained.
Before the vote was taken, Tom Davis thanked his namesake from Illinois for helping to bring the resolution to the floor on behalf of the Democrats.
He also thanked Jindal, "a Rhodes Scholar and one who has brought credit to his heritage, to his state, and this body by serving here."