BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by Vinod Sharma, SFA Productions
Atlanta, GA, October 24, 2023: Upon her arrival as the third consul general of India in Atlanta in 2018, Dr. Swati Kulkarni appealed to hundreds of community organizations to come together to host a single Diwali celebration, and the United Diwali Fest shaped up quickly attracting crowds from all factions of the community. That spirit of unifying diverse sections permeated all through her tenure in Atlanta culminating in a grand farewell organized by Nitin Shah, Chairman and CEO, Embassy Bank, and Jeet Thakker at the Crowne Plaza in Norcross on October 8, 2023.
Describing bittersweet moments of a diplomat’s life, Dr. Kulkarni, a native of Mumbai, drew a colloquial parallel to ‘Dombivali Fast’, that moves from one stop to another. “We stop at certain stations and move on. So, with mixed feelings, we are sad to leave the workplace where we have toiled hard, and made so many good friends. And we are happy that we anticipate so many challenges in a new workplace and new friends, as we carry forward the best friendships we have made in our past.”
Congressman Sanford Bishop, Representing the 2nd District, Georgia, Senator Sheikh Rahman, Scott Hilton, Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives from District 48, State Representative Mesha Mainor, Georgia State Representative Farooq Mughal, State Representative Matt Reeves, Senator Emanuel Jones Senate District 10, Mayor of Norcross, Craig Newton, Om Duggal, prominent members of the community and members of several organizations gathered to bid farewell to the outgoing diplomat with tributes to her collaborations, resourcefulness, her innate capability to present India and its views to the United States, and most of all, her engagement with the community.
“Everybody does their work, but nobody was involved in the community like she has,” Nitin Shah, co-organizer of the event, noted in his opening remarks. The attendance of representatives from across the southeast bears testament to the goodwill and relationships she has fostered over the years, he said.
“Nitin (Shah)and I put this together in just 2 weeks. It took a lot of planning to bring congressmen, senators and so many organizations together, but we wanted to honor Dr. Kulkarni and her work in the southeast and do it well and the result was very gratifying. The support from community groups in Atlanta and the SE region was overwhelming, with people attending from the states of Alabama, TN, FL, SC, NC, and NJ!” Jeet Thakker, co-organizer of the farewell, said.
Dr. Kulkarni has held more than 150 meetings with elected officials across the South, including seven governors, several mayors, and congressional leaders.
After leaving behind medical aspirations for a career in the foreign service, Dr. Kulkarni served in the regions of Oman, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Prior to her appointment as Consul General, Consulate General of India, Atlanta, she served as Regional Passport Officer, Mumbai, Maharashtra (2014-2018), Consul General in CGI Cape Town- South Africa (2012-2014), Deputy Head of Mission in Muscat, Oman (2008-2012).
Dr. Kulkarni’s previous overseas assignments were First Secretary in High Commission of India, London (2005-2008), where she successfully worked as a nodal officer for preventing discrimination for Indian Medical Graduates after the implementation of new UK Immigration rules; First Secretary in the High Commission of India, Port Louis, Mauritius (2001-2003); and as a Third Secretary (Language Trainee) in Embassy of India, Spain (1997-1998).
Dr. Kulkarni is married to Mr. Vijay Jayant Kulkarni who is a Merchant Mariner by profession and has two daughters.
Amidst addresses from various dignitaries, the event also featured Bharatanatyam performances from students of Kalaivani Dance Academy.
“She is indeed an excellent diplomat. She has discharged her responsibilities extremely well during her tenure…She has succeeded overwhelmingly in strengthening the bond of the United States and India in combining, showing, and demonstrating the tremendous inextricably intertwined relationships that Indian Americans have here in the United States to work,” Congressman Bishop said. While there have been “points of disagreement”, he said, the diplomat in her has been able to work through those and during the five years she’s been here, “we’ve increased the bilateral trade and investment relationships between our two countries. We have increased corporate global security.”
“On behalf of the members of the Georgia congressional delegation, and on behalf of the members of the United States House of Representatives, Senate, and the administration I just want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to her for a job well done,” Congressman Bishop said as he presented a plaque in her honor.
“She’s the best brand ambassador for India– not only for the Indian diaspora here, but also the non-Indian communities,” Dr. Jag Sheth noted. He also commended her skills as a diplomat and knack to represent the interests of a country with a rising economic profile and one-fifth of the world’s population.
Rep. Hilton, Rep. Reeves, Rep. Mughal, Rep. Mainor, and Senator Jones echoed the compliments.
Senator Jones cited a personal anecdote, commending Dr. Kulkarni for her talk about the history of Dr. King in a way that appealed to everyone present at the Junior Advisory Council of Dr. King.
“It seems like it was only yesterday that we welcomed you to Atlanta and we thank you for your dedicated services and our heartfelt gratitude for all that you have done,” Raj Razdan, President. National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA). said. She presented a plaque in recognition of Dr. Kulkarni’s services on behalf of the organization. “She has served very well here and we wish her all the best,” Subash Razdan, Founder, Gandhi Foundation USA, said.
“She was here for five years and she was the best. She has connected our Indian community unlike anyone else,” Shiv Aggarwal, Owner, Global Mall, said. Mani Krishnaswamy, local entrepreneur also vouched for Dr. Kulkarni’s contributions to the business community.
“I have had the opportunity to work with her not only in Atlanta but also in Delhi. She was always a call away for anyone who needed her. She also established excellent relationships at all levels of government. We wish her the best,” Ani Agnihotri, Chairman, India American Cultural Association (IACA) and Founder, UIBS (USA India Business Summit) said.
Madhav Katrade, who works with multiple organizations across Atlanta such as VHPA and Ekal also commended Swati’s efforts towards uniting the community. Vishwanath Ganti, IACA, BOD agreed.
“Swati ji encouraged us a lot, especially during Hindi Diwas celebrations,” Sandhya Saxena Bhagat, Founder, Dhoop Chaon Hindi theatre group in Atlanta remarked.
Hon. Madan Ghildiyal, Vice Consul in his address, noted that Dr. Kulkarni, post her successful tenure in Atlanta, will be handling “much higher responsibilities that are commensurate with seniority and experience. In headquarters, she will be looking after many missions and her decisions will be impacting around 193 missions and postings around the world.” He also commended her leadership and guidance within the consulate.
“In my jurisdiction, I traveled extensively made countless visits and those visits imbibed new learning gathered news stories, made new friends. Each trip was unique. And we extensively expanded our outreach on all the fronts. We marketed ‘Brand India’ at each and every opportunity.”
“On the political front, I met over 75 members of Congress, Senators, Governors, State Representatives and State Senators from each state, several mayors and commissioners, and many, many political dignitaries. We succeeded in getting over 25 political statements on the floor of the house.”
“During our Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations, we received videos on India’s developmental journey from several political dignitaries including Congressman Bishop, State Senator Jones, and others and they all became viral in India,” Dr. Kulkarni said.
Dr. Kulkarni paid tribute to the loss of Congressman John Lewis. “He was such an iconic civil rights fighter who cherished Gandhian values and his legacy will endure,” she said.
Summarizing her work on the economic front, Dr. Kulkarni said she and her team “witnessed the organization of 200 plus trade-related events” that help with trade and commercial ties. She added that they also published a booklet on trade and investment between India and the Southeast, a third edition that gives an informative perspective on investment in the Southeast. On the Consular front, Dr. Kulkarni talked about Vande Bharat through which hundreds of Indians stranded in the US were safely sent back, including 10,000 sailors stranded on cruise ships. Dr. Kulkarni also highlighted her “Immigration Junction” which enlists 60 cases that received help from the consulate, listing dos and don’ts for new/prospective immigrants.
Dr. Kulkarni also prided herself in the fact that the Atlanta Consulate was the first to introduce ‘Chatbot’, a solution she and the team came up with, to address the large volume of calls.
Dr. Kulkarni lauded community organizations’ efforts in preserving Indian culture, many of which she was a part of, and also the community’s commitment to helping locals and India during COVID. She also spoke about the Howdy Modi event which involved 1600 volunteers and PM Modi’s visit to the White House. Dr. Kulkarni said the T20 match in Ft. Lauderdale generated over 20 million to Broward County. Dr. Kulkarni also highlighted the many recognitions including the Padma Bhushan awarded to NRIs in her jurisdiction, a job which gave her immense pleasure.
“This is an excellent reception. I could not ask for more. It was great to work with friends like you, and organizations such as yours. So, on my behalf and my husband, Mr. Vijay, who is such a pillar of support to me, I express my sincere gratitude to one and all. I carry this Atlanta story deep down in my heart.”
Dr. Kulkarni has recently been appointed as Additional Secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.