Ambassador Nirumpama Menon Rao talks education, international climate in Gaston
Yesterday evening, Nirupama Menon Rao, Ambassador of India to the United States, spoke to Georgetown students, faculty, and alumni in Gaston Hall. Her visit was in anticipation of a summit on Indian and American higher education, which will be hosted at Georgetown next month, and the creation of a chair of Indian Culture and Affairs within the Walsh School of Foreign Service.
Dressed in a regal pink sari, Ambassador Rao emphasized the interconnectedness of all countries in today’s global environment. She cited acts of international terror as especially important in making more developed countries realize that third-world and developing nations are equally important and deserving of attention as larger powers. She also described India’s “rapid social and economic transformation” in a mere sixty years as a quiet example for developing countries. She then, to the crowd’s chagrin, discussed how India was not in a competition with China for the role of the ideal rags to riches nation.
In this vein, Rao was especially emphatic about education as a “vessel for social change.” She discussed India’s commitment to extending higher education and technical schools, as well as extending primary education to rural areas. The bigger challenge, she said, is keeping children, especially girls, in school through their teenage years.
As much as Ambassador Rao tried to preach about the democratic and peaceful tradition of India, economic advancement was never far behind. She repeatedly stated that one of the main reasons for wanting to ensure “a safe neighborhood” in Southeast Asia was so that India could meet its economic targets for the future—the growth of the country’s gross domestic product is obviously a priority. Furthermore, she said her nation was ready to take on a greater world leadership role, especially being included on the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member, a reform supported by President Obama.
During the question-and-answer portion of the evening, Georgetown students and alums impressed Rao with insightful, pointed questions. Many questions, mostly from eager students in the School of Foreign Service, focused on India’s foreign policy, especially with regard to Pakistan and Afghanistan. For the most part, Ambassador Rao skillfully dodged specifics, opting instead to emphasize the “safe neighborhood” policy and the importance of stability for these nations in the world climate.
But while Ambassador Rao may have glossed over many of the pressing issues facing India and the United States, especially India’s tenuous relationship with Pakistan, her obvious overarching message about cooperation in a global society and the importance of education was touching and poignant—albeit a little more “Kumbaya” than realistic.
Photo by Tim Markatos.