(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you all for joining us this evening to celebrate America’s Independence Day. I am honored to welcome all of you – it is great to see such a diverse group of friends from the government, business community, diplomatic corps, and civil society. I would like to extend a particular welcome to our Chief Guest, the Honorable Minister of State for External Affairs General V.K. Singh. We are also honored to be joined by Minister Maneka Gandhi, Minister Piyush Goyal, and Foreign Secretary Jaishankar, as well as our many other distinguished guests. I would also like to sincerely thank our sponsors for helping make this event possible.
Today we celebrate an important milestone, 239 years since we declared our independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. We do not celebrate a great victory in battle or the toppling of a tyrant, but we celebrate the document that expressed our deepest ideals and laid the foundation of our democracy – a foundation that has influenced in one way or another all other democracies that have come since. The core of these ideals are expressed in one simple sentence that reads as eloquent and as true today as it did 239 years ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, appears to have been clairvoyant when he wrote about the Declaration to his wife Abigail, saying: “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” And so it has been, at least for 239 years, and it will be again tonight here in New Delhi. We thank you for joining us in this celebration of America’s independence – and we honor all of you as well – for your service, for your friendship, and for your commitment to the values we hold so dear.
One aspect of our celebration, of the “shows, games, and sports,” that Adams called for has been the quintessential American pastime known as baseball. So it is entirely appropriate that tonight we have adopted baseball as the theme of our Independence Day celebration. I hope all of you have had the chance to hit a home run at our virtual batter’s box; it is not quite like the real thing, but we didn’t want any broken glass during tonight’s festivities. Besides being America’s national pastime, baseball holds a special place in my heart. I was raised in Pennsylvania, played little league as a kid, and remain a huge fan of the Pirates – Pittsburgh’s Major League Baseball team. Growing up, I remember going to Pirates’ games and noticing how baseball brought people together – people from different towns, backgrounds, and economic circumstances would all come together to root for the home team. Whether we had a winning season or not was less important – we were family as the team’s motto emphasized – and we loved the event of celebrating and recognizing something so American as baseball. And although we have not won the World Series since 1979, this may just be our year.
I know cricket reigns supreme in India, but I just wanted to highlight a couple of ways baseball has brought our two nations together. In 2007, Million Dollar Arm, a reality television competition, aired in India. The creators had the somewhat naïve belief that there were similarities between pitching in baseball and bowling in cricket, and so the competition sought to find Indian athletes who had the skills to play professional baseball in the United States. The show was so successful that it became the basis of a Hollywood movie. Coincidentally, the two winners of the original Million Dollar Arm competition, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, ended up playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization. Dinesh is with us tonight – let’s give him a round of applause. Rinku is back in the States, still playing with the Pirates’ organization. Hopefully, he will be able to help end our long championship drought!
There is also a long history of baseball in the state of Manipur. U.S. soldiers who were stationed there during World War II would play pickup baseball games with Manipuris during their deployment. To this day, baseball is an influential part of Manipur’s culture, with women and girls among the most talented and passionate players.
These are just a few examples of the people-to-people connections that underpin the U.S.-India relationship. When President Obama was here a few months ago, he said it only makes sense that the United States and India are natural partners – we have so much in common. When the people of India and the people of the United States gained their independence, they designed liberal representative democracies that put freedom of conscience and self-rule above all else.
It is these shared values, coupled with our deep people-to-people ties, that form the foundation of trust and interconnectedness that will help us tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges together. We won’t solve the world’s problems overnight and we may have disagreements along the way, like all good friends do. A baseball season, however, lasts 162 games. So regardless of the ups and downs in any particular inning, patience, perseverance, and teamwork are what define a winning season. And I’m confident we are well on our way to securing many post-season victories together.
Let me close by introducing this fine military band from the 25th Infantry Division, Paradise Brass, who came all the way from Hawaii for this event. Their presence here today reminds me of a quote from Jackie Robinson, one of baseball’s most inspirational players. Robinson, an African American who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, said: “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.” In commemoration of the day the United States declared its independence, I would like to take a moment to thank the brave men and women in our armed forces who work tirelessly every day to preserve our freedom. The impact that you have on all of our lives is truly profound. For all of you who have served or continue to serve, military or civilian, and for all of our friends of the United States here tonight who have stood up for the liberty that we hold so dear, we say thank you and happy Independence Day to all.