Marking a milestone moment in the annals of the Indian-Americans’ success story in the US, President Barack Obama has named Richard Rahul Verma, a consummate Washington insider, as the next ambassador to India.
Verma’s appointment comes just days before India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-publicised visit to the US, starting September 26. Verma will succeed Nancy Powell, who resigned in late March amid a growing perception in Washington that she failed to read signs about Mr Modi’s ascent to power in Delhi.
The story of this second-generation immigrant is a classic tale of the “American Dream” coming true. Born into an immigrant Punjabi family from Jalandhar, this family moved to the US in the 1960s. Oncee there, his father worked hard to earn a Ph.D, but struggled in his initial days in America.
Growing up in Pennslyvenia, Verma excelled in academics. With a scholarship from the US Air Force, he went to Lehigh University, a private college in Bethelem, Pennsylvania, from where he graduated with honours in science in 1990. He later graduated cum laude in 1993 from the American University Law School, and later the Georgetown University Law Center, where he received his LLM with distinction in 1998. He also served with distinction in the US Air Force, and has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (1998), Air Force Commendation Medal (1996) and the National Defense Service Medal (1994).
When Verma arrives in Delhi, he will bring with him his an intimate knowledge of how Washington power belt works. His resume underlines his experience in all branches of the US government. As a Senior National Security Adviser to US Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, he knows the US legislature well.
In his last job as the Assistant Secretary of State for legislative affairs during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as the US’ top diplomat, he deftly bridged the gap between the executive and the legislature. Hillary Clinton not only admired Verma for his professional acumen, but also forged an enduring personal bond. In an article in Times of India, Chidananda Rajghata wrote: “In a farewell to Verma when he left the state department job in 2011, Clinton recalled in a very personal way how much Verma guarded her back and how much he meant to her. ”My mother lives with us in our house here in Washington, and I was saying goodbye to her this morning and she said, ‘What’s wrong, you don’t look very good.’ And I said, ‘Well, I know, I am not just in a very good mood today.’ And she says, ‘Well, you know, there’s so much going on in the world, all over the country, and the economy.’ But I said, ‘No, it’s not it; it’s Rich Verma (leaving).'” Clinton related.” In a farewell note, President Obama praised Verma for his professionalism and dedication.
Verma, however, is also a legal expert, having worked in law firms and clerkships, and has advised numerous US law makers on domestic laws and international treaties, including the US-India civilian nuclear deal. He currently serves on the board of Human Rights First, the Clinton Foundation, and the National Democratic Institute.
Verma, who speaks a little Hindi, brings more than just his qualification, to his new job. His appointment comes at a time when both Washington and New Delhi are looking to iron out differences and elevate the strategic partnership to the next level.
Verma’s appointment underlines the spirit of co-existence shared by the two countries that Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently spoke of. He is also a reminder that the 3 million strong Indian community in the US are not limited to the sphere of IT, medicine, engineering and business, but are increasingly taking up the role of decision makers within the government. Both countries will be looking to tap into this cultural connectivity to strengthen linkages between the New Delhi and Washington.
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