The 2009 annual gala of Houston’s Indo American Charity Foundation (IACF) drew more than just some concomitant applause towards its annual goal of raising about a quarter million dollars to support US-based charity organisations. It also drew more than 500 of the most prominent Houstonians, including US Congressman Pete Olson and Indian Consul General Shri Sanjiv Arora, who thronged the Inter Continental Hotel to welcome a dynamic, young politician from India.
IACF, which supports scholarships and programmes in the areas of education, healthcare, children and families, invited Shri Varun Gandhi, the youngest member of the Nehru family, because it felt he best represents young and new India. IACF President Ms. Rachel Varghese said, seeing a vibrant, articulate speaker with an interest in doing something for the underprivileged is what the new generation of Indian Americans will relate to. Their knowledge of India is through their parents’ eyes. The chance to hear something positive from a young person who will be in the forefront of India’s growth as a true democracy is of great interest to the young professionals who live here. IACF-Houston, founded in 1988 by a group of Indian-Americans, is a non-profit organisation that raises funds for various humanitarian endeavours helping those in need of health, education and human services. “There’s no mistaking the lure of the Gandhi name, the family generated enough interest similar to what I had seen here in US with the Kennedy family,” said Varghese.
29 year-old Varun Gandhi, the first Indian parliamentarian to be called to this prestigious annual gala, has been recently elected as a Member of the Lok Sabha with an unprecedented victory margin of nearly 281,501 votes in his maiden election campaign from Pilibhit constituency. Varun Gandhi is the great-grandson of the late Jawahar Lal Nehru, who was India’s first Prime Minister of India, and his grandmother is the late Indira Gandhi, a popular Indian Prime Minister who ruled India for 15 years. He is the son of the late Sanjay Gandhi and Maneka Gandhi, an Indian parliamentarian and animal rights activist. Varun Gandhi is a Law & Economics graduate from the London School of Economics and a post graduate in Public Policy from the University of London. A prolific and precocious reader with excellent literary taste, he has authored his own volume of poetry titled The Otherness of Self besides a variety of articles on issues of National Security and External Affairs.
In his key note address, Varun Gandhi spoke lucidly and thoughtfully about India’s place in the new global order charity and social services in the emerging, economy. Varun Gandhi started off his speech with subtle humour that drew wild cheers from the audience. Upon hearing a guest’s request to speak louder, Varun chuckled, it is for the first time that somebody accused me of being soft-spoken and remarked that he was so used to facing brickbats in India that he was expecting some bouquets in Houston. He spoke passionately about India’s progress and challenges, underling a positive message of hope and change. He rooted firmly in favour of youth participation in nation building, believing that one must participate in the system in order to change it.
His speech was superbly articulated, extremely profound and deeply moving-proving beyond doubt that inside this soft-spoken young man, there lie a heart of immense compassion, a boundless intellect and a grassroot activist’s dedication to serve India. In his address, Varun shared his views about a young and resurgent India and talked about India’s development challenges and the importance of economic growth through scientific development and adoption of intelligent policies. Noting that 40 per cent of the world’s malnourished children live in India and that 77 per cent of India’s population has been classified as being poor, he recommended education, health and poverty-alleviating policy guidelines in his address. He also addressed the issues of environmental pollution, prolongued monsoon delays that is crippling the agricultural sector and the rapid melting of the Gangetic glacier that affects drinking water supply for 400 million Indians.
Repeatedly stressing that India is a country abundant in human and natural resources, Varun maintained that India is not a poor country but a poorly managed country. He urged the proper use of technology, adoption of skill based training and efficient utilisation of the world’s greatest workforce and India’s greatest resource viz. the 60 per cent of India’s population who is under the age of 30, totally 630 million people double the US population. He pointed numerous schemes and ingenious inventions pioneered by ordinary Indians and NGOs that have reduced maternal mortality by 50 per cent, addressed the rural populations needs for eye-care, disaster management, technology and eco-friendly vehicles.
Varun’s refined appeal calling for Global Atruism and the need for NRIs to pitch in and help their motherland resonated well with the Indian-American audience who clapped vigorously when he reminded them that no matter how far they have come, both in terms of distance and knowledge, they are essentially Indians, a people who ate with their hands and spoke from their hearts. And speak from his heart, he certainly did. Verily, Varun Gandhi was described in glowing terms by the next speaker at the gala, Dr. Najma Heptullah, veteran Indian parliamentarian and former Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. Dr. Heptullah, who explained that her family has known Varun Gandhi’s family for four generations, stressed in her speech that India’s future looks very bright with dynamic leaders like Varun Gandhi on the horizon.
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