A three-day convention was organized in metropolitan Washington DC during November 16, 2018 – November 18, 2018 weekend by the country’s one of the oldest associations of Indian American Associations – an umbrella group – the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA). All delegates from different states gathered at Sheraton Tyson corner, under the presidency of Sudip Gorakshakar. The convention was organized by convener Pooja Thomre of San Diego who was assisted by four Co-conveners, Angela Anand, now elected first female president of NFIA from Nation’s Capital, Pat Patnaik from California, Yogendra Gupta from Maryland and Raz Razdan from Georgia.
The convention started with the White House briefing, organized by then Vice President, Angela Anand, on Friday afternoon at EEOB. Mr. Stephen Peter Munisteri, Deputy Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison was contacted by Angela Anand to arrange the briefing and also to speak to the delegates along with his assistant Melissa Fwu. Mr. Munisteri is a retired attorney from Houston, Texas, who from 2010 to 2015, was chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. In 2016 he joined the Rand Paul for President campaign. In 2017 he was appointed to the White House staff to manage the office of the Public Liaison for the President Trump.
For more than one hour, all delegates assembled at the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House – Eisenhour Executive building and received briefing from the Political appointees inclusive of Raj Shah, who is the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary and Deputy Assistant to President, along with Stephen Peter Munisteri, Deputy Assistant to the President and Principal Director of the Office of Public Liaison and Martha Fwu also of Public Liaison office along with Pranay Udutha, another appointee, who spoke on the Health Initiatives of the President. All speakers, one by one, and in the interactive session gave opportunity to delegates to ask questions. Delegates asked questions on health and drug issues and administration policies on pricing of drugs and long research and development process of drugs along with companies using prime time to advertise drugs on television, press and media messages of networks regarding administration’s policies, education, transportation, presidents’ economic and business policies.
The speakers stated that President Trump has good relations with India and he will visit India when time permits and not for Republic Day event as he has scheduling conflicts. It was also said that reaching out to the Indian community is very crucial but Indians as whole are not reaching out to the present administration due to some pros and cons. He has done well for the economy, pay rises for people and better benefits for all but the news is not reaching out correctly to everyone due to media bias. Pranay Udutha, who works with Kelly Ann Conway said the administration is training families to request doctors to give shorter time for the use of opioids for medical conditions rather than 90 days and stacking up the medicines. The session ended with a tour of some historical areas of the selected portions of the White House.
In the evening, all delegates were hosted by the Indian Embassy and the event was organized by Yogendera Gupta. All officials including DCM Mr. Santosh Jha, Community Minister Anurag Kumar, Visa section chief and press personnel of the Indian Ambassador to U.S. Navtej Sarna, greeted all the delegates warmly and provided opportunity for networking reception. At this meeting, Community Minister Kumar offered the NFIA officials to speak and also ask questions.
The morning of second day of the convention, seminars were held on the topics: health and fitness – diabetes, yoga, Ayurveda, philanthropy (NGO – Snehalya), business and entrepreneurship along with Technology 20-20 seminars were held. “Did we bite more than what we could chew” – Technology 20-20 had distinguished gentlemen and technologists, a token female– one on the softer side of technology, i.e. software training, Angela Anand was engaged in this seminar. The seminar was moderated by Nanotechnology expert and a well-known community personality, Dr. Thomas Abraham, NFIA Founder and currently serving as chairman of GOPIO, who owns a market research firm Innovative Research and Products in Stamford, Connecticut. Panelists were Digvijay “Danny” Gaekward, Founder and CEO of NDS USA Information Technology; Vijay Lakshman, a serial entrepreneur, video gamer, designer, author of books; who is in technology management at present and Dr. Satyam Priyadarshy, Chief Data Scientist at Halliburton, Founder of Reignite Strategy and an adjunct faculty of several educational institutions.
The awards banquet on Saturday evening started with a cocktail hour followed by the award ceremony starting with American and Indian national anthems followed by a cultural program. Students of Natya Marg Bharat Natyam dance school performed dance along with their artistic director Indrani Davaluri and a fellow dancer Sulochana on pots and plates carrying lighted lamps. Students of Nrityaki performed kathak dance and vocalist Kshama Garg entertained by her melodious voice old and new songs from Bollywood. A Fashion show organized by Indrani Davaluri delighted all in the audience and so did the music of Aloke Das Gupta on Sitar. He was gracious and has played for Beetles.
At the banquet, Dr. Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense; Congressman Todd Rokita (Indiana – R), Dr. John Anderson, Curator, Air and Space Museum, along with Swami Deerananda Ji, from Chinmaya Mission, spoke to an audience of NFIA delegates from across the country and leaders of the community from the Nation’s Capital. Gerald Connolly, a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from Virginia’s 11th congressional district whose district the convention was held sent a congratulatory message as he was on nation’s business traveling out of the country.
The NFIA elections were held after the General Body meeting and was conducted by the Election Committee Chair Dr. Thomas Abraham along with members past NFIA President Radha Krishna and NFIA Executive Director Harihar Singh. The following were elected as new team for 2019.
President – Ms. Angela Anand; Exec Vice President – Ms. Lavanya Reddy; Vice Presidents – Dr. Yogendra Gupta, Mr. Ashok (Pat) Patnaik and Mr. Subbarao Makam; Secretary – Ms. Rachel Verghese; Joint Secretary – Dr. Satish Misra; Treasurer – Mr. Ajoy Dube; Directors-at-Large – Ms. Pooja Thomre, Mr. Satheesan Nair, Dr. Om Sharma, Ms. Padma Gupta, Mr. Babu K Patel, Dr. Lalita Kaul and Ms. Aparna Hande;
Regional Vice Presidents – Mr. Kamlesh Munshi (Capital), Ms. Vasu Pawar (South Pacific), Ms. Raj Razdan (South East) and Mr. Amrik Kamoh (North Pacific).
The newly formed NFIA Board appointed the following for various positions; Chairman NFIA Foundation – Mr. Sudip Gorakshakar, Executive Director Admin – Dr. Hari Har Singh and Second Executive Director – Mr. Kewal Kanda.
Commenting on the election, NFIA Founder Dr. Thomas Abraham said, “Indian American women involved in the community activities have made history at the NFIA convention when all the positions for which elections have been conducted gone to women, which shows women power in our community.”
“We hope that the new team will reach out to all Indian American community and professional organizations and make a truly representative body for the whole 4.5 million community,” added Dr. Abraham.
Outgoing President Sudip Gorakshakar and NFIA Founder President Dr. Thomas Abraham complimented Convention Convener Pooja Thomre for taking the responsibility to organize a successful convention.
NFIA awarded nine individuals, selected nationally for different categories and disciplines by a committee of five, chaired by NFIA Past President Inder Singh. The award ceremony was conducted by Dr. Thomas Abraham, who is chairman of GOPIO. The following were selected to receive the awards in person:
Dr. Ajay Kothari – Engineering, Digvijay “Danny” Gaekwad – Business & Entrepreneurship, Shweta Misra, Classical Dance Artform – Performing Arts, Dr. Aman Mann – Health Sciences, Umi Mukherjee – Service to Indian American Seniors, Koshy Thomas – Media, Arti Manek – Folk and Classical Dance Art Forms, Aloke Dasgupta – Performing Arts, Sitar playing in Classical Tradition and Nami Kaur – Service to Non-profit Institutions.
Dr. Ajay Kothari is President and Founder of Astrox Corporation. His PhD and MS in Aerospace Engineering are from University of Maryland. He has over 50 professional publications, has been interviewed on TV about Space more than 10 times and authored more than 20 articles in news outlets. He has managed more than 30 contracts from Air Force, NASA and DARPA. He was awarded National Merit Scholarship, was awarded the “Engineer of the Year” award by ASEI, was the president of ASEI National Capital Chapter from 2014-2015, and was on Board of WHEELS Charity Foundation in 2016-2018.
Digvijay “Danny” Gaekwad is the founder and CEO of NDS USA Information Technology. During the last three decades, Danny has built over a dozen small-and medium-sized companies, in diverse fields, such as convenience stores, real estate development, hospitality industry and information technology. His companies have created thousands of jobs in Florida and other parts of the United States, contributing millions of dollars to the economy. In 2016, Gov. Rick Scott recognized him with the “One Million Jobs” certificate of appreciation for his contribution “in helping Florida job creators add 1 million jobs between December 2010 and December 2015.”
Multi-talented Shweta Misra is a well-known Kathak dancer in the DC area and operates Nrityaki Dance Academy to teach Kathak dance artform. Her dance school is affiliated with a university in India – Prayag Sangeet Samiti, through which students can obtain Master’s degree in Kathak. She and her dance academy students have performed at prestigious locations such as White House, Kennedy Center, and Indo-American Galas. She has a MS Degree in Computer Science from Virginia Tech and works as a Senior Software Engineer. She became Mrs. India Virginia 2015 and is Mrs. India DC 2018.
Dr. Aman Mann is a Research Faculty at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. Aman’s research expertise span different fields of neuroscience including neurotrauma (TBI) and neurodegenerative conditions (Multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease). His discoveries in the laboratory support the development of new disease-modifying drug candidates for brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease which are currently being developed at AivoCode. Aman is the founder and Chief Operating Officer of AivoCode Inc., in La Jolla, California. He completed his Bachelors in Bioengineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and received his PhD in Nanomedicine from University of Texas.
Umi Mukherjee – Service to Indian American Seniors, says, “About 27 years ago, I started a Seniors’ club in Southern California. I used to pick up and drop them off at their homes on Tuesday afternoons. After 5 months, I changed the venue to a more central place and the membership increased manifold. I paid for the rental of the hall, snacks & lunches for first 4-5 years. The membership has always been FREE and we have about 250 seniors at monthly meetings. For the last few years, I have been getting sponsors for monthly meetings. We take seniors to overnight trips also. For me, it is the biggest achievement of my life when I can make seniors happy.”
Koshy Thomas, publisher and CEO of Voice of Asia Group, the parent corporation for the weekly publication, Voice of Asia, which has served as the authoritative voice of the South Asian community in Texas for over 30 years. Mr. Thomas created Voice of Asia to nurture and promote the political, economic and cultural ambitions of the South Asian community in Texas. Mr. Thomas and his wife Moani have three daughters and three grandsons.
Arti Manek – Folk and Classical Dance Art Forms. Dancing, performing and teaching has been Arti’s passion since childhood. Arti learnt Indian Classical kathak dance from the renowned Guru, Abhay Shankar Mishra, in England culminating in the establishment of Shankara Dance Academy, now flourishing in Los Angeles. Legendary Pt. Birju Maharaj attended the first Rang Manch Pravesh of her student as the chief guest. Arti also achieved immense acclaim in folk dance, getting numerous awards in FOGANA competitions and productions of mega dance drama shows including Ramayana with Pujya Morari Bapu as chief guest.
Aloke Dasgupta – Performing Arts, Sitar playing in Classical Tradition. Aloke Dasgupta studied under the guidance of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and has performed with V.G. Jog, the LA Philharmonic and the Rolling Stones, Gwen Stefani, among others. He composed for movie “Out Source” and for “Ocean of Pearl” received award. He has performed extensively in India, Japan, the USA, and Europe. He played for Lincoln Center, Hollywood Bowl, Ford Theatre. Finally with “Cheap Trick” he performed 36 shows in Vegas “ Recreation of Sgt. Pepper by Beatles. He founded the Raga Ranjani School of Music in 1986 and has been teaching sitar ever since.
Nami Kaur – Service to Non-profit Institutions. Nami Kaur donates her time/skills to non-profit organizations, following a corporate career at IBM Corporation. She serves as: Executive Board Member – Children’s Hope India (CHI); a New York based non-profit. At CHI, she led the development of its new website and manages outreach initiatives with dignitaries; Chair – GOPIO Media Council. Manages communication with the South Asian media and Editor – monthly Newsletter, GOPIO International; Board Director – Riveredge Coop; Her focus, has been to improve communications between the Board, Property Management and the Resident Shareholders and Volunteer – New York Botanical Garden. Nami holds MBA in Marketing and MS in Mathematics.