At its annual conference, held this month on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, the South Asian Studies Association presented its 2011 Community Service Award to my friend Ron Somers, President of the U.S. India Business Council for his role in promoting US-India relations.
SASA President Dr. Bill Vanderbok presented the award which reads in part, “In acknowledgement of your boundless passion and your ongoing contributions in bringing the peoples of the India and the United States closer together for business, trade and cultural exchange. You are truly the universal ambassador to both countries and are equally admired and respected in business, government and academia. Your infectious energy motivates and drives all whom you touch and the South Asia Studies Association acknowledges your invaluable contributions to both cultures.”
Ron and I (in my role as a board member of SASA) engaged in an hour-long spirited colloquy over the current state of US-India relations in a plenary session of the conference. We talked about how only six American presidents have ever visited India, but this includes all three of the most recent: Clinton (2000), Bush (2006) and Obama (2010). Somers said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a great ally for India and for US-India relations.
On the subject of education collaboration, India needs to expand its higher education system by a factor of 10 to 1500 universities; We discussed how the audience in particular and American universities in general can play a significant role in supporting Indian HRD Minister Dr. Kapil Sibal’s ambitious plans. India’s needs include primary education; spoke of India’s Right to Education Act of 2010 that entitle every child to demand free and elementary education between the ages of six and 14 years.