WASHINGTON, DC – Members of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha from across the United States convened in the nation’s capital Thursday to participate in ‘Advocacy Day’ – an initiative to mobilize members to meet with their elected representatives in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to discuss and advise on legislative policy relating to issues affecting the Indian American community.
An unprecedented 187 Congressional offices were consulted, of which members of Congress were present in 54 – a record for the BAPS initiative, now in its third year. Furthermore, in a historic first for BAPS, a member of the BAPS congregation from Pennsylvania led the opening prayer on the floor of the House of Representatives with the traditional Shanti Paath and by remembering the teachings of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. BAPS is a global 501(c)3 charitable organization representing one of the largest segments of the Hindu American community.
The day culminated in the ‘Diwali on the Hill’ celebration at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Over 400 members of the Indian American community from all over the United States were in attendance to celebrate alongside members of Congress, including Rep. Pete Olson (TX-22), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08), Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Rep. Lou Correa (CA-46), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Rep. David Schweikert (AZ-6), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. TJ Cox (CA-21), as well as Indian Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
Commenting on the importance of BAPS’ advocacy work in educating members of Congress on Indian American affairs, Rep. Chu remarked, “I understand that you had over 180 visits to different offices, and that’s very impressive because you’ve been able to reach out and carry out your message and talk about issues very important to you. I think it’s so important to bring the most important cultural events right here so that we in Washington DC can celebrate right along with you.”
Ambassador Shringla recollected his experience working with BAPS in the past: “It was in South Africa many years ago that I had the opportunity to work closely with [BAPS] and also had been greatly inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj himself, and continue to be inspired by his teachings and writings,” he reflected. “I’m very thankful to BAPS for conveying [Indian American] sentiments and views on issues that are important to you with your representatives.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Al Green (TX-09) presented BAPS with the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for its service to the community, dedication to promoting Indian culture, and contributions to communities across the nation.
Diwali is also known as the Festival of Lights, and is the most widely celebrated festival in India. It signifies the start of the Indian New Year and the triumph of good over evil, which Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities celebrate through lighting candles, preparing intricate dishes, and praying for wisdom and prosperity.
Several elected officials in attendance expressed the importance of diversity in their communities and the benefit of sharing such cultural traditions and celebrations in building understanding, strength and trust within communities.
“Complexity of thought is what’s missing; Diwali is about understanding the complexity of the world,” observed Rep Khanna. “I wish that the world would listen more to pluralism and peace that is at the essence of Hinduism.”
Rep. Olson was optimistic. “Hurricane Harvey [dropped] 5 feet of rain in less than two days,” he explained. “Our friends from BAPS did not care if you have money, where you went to church, what kind of car you drove – if you were in need, they took you into their temple and got you back on your feet. Thank you for what you’ve done for my hometown.”
Rep. Fitzpatrick observed the family unity aspect of Diwali. “I wanted to compliment you on everything you do to make our country the greatest country in the world. But the highest compliment I can pay to you is the way you raise your children is second to none,” he said. “My grandparents taught me we should always be proud to be Americans, but to never lose touch with our cultural and ancestral roots. It is the greatest gift to give your children.
Members from several co-hosting and co-sponsoring organizations, including India America Movement, Hindu American Foundation, Indiaspora, The Art of Living, Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA), Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington (JSMW), the U.S.-India Business Council, among others, were also in attendance.
Advocacy Day, spearheaded by BAPS in 2017, burgeoned from meeting with just 57 Congressional offices in its inaugural year to a record 187 this year, making it the most extensive outreach program to the US Congress by the organization, and among the largest ever conducted for the Indian American community.