Icon of India-US ties, US embassy building turns 50

January 5th, 2009 - 5:30 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) An icon of India-US friendship for five decades, the stately US embassy chancery, hailed as an inspiration by none other than the then US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Monday celebrated its 50th anniversary in the presence of American diplomats and hundreds of Indians. It was also a nostalgia trip for many long-time residents of Delhi like Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who recalled how one could see this magnificent landmark from anywhere in the city in those days when there were not many trees in the embassy compound.

“It was and is a landmark in the city. It’s a source of great aesthetic pleasure and a symbol of great friendship between the two countries,” Dikshit, who was chief guest at the ceremony, said with US ambassador David Mulford at her side.

“In the last several years, this friendship has taken several steps forward,” Dikshit said, alluding to defining steps like the India-US nuclear deal, concluded in October last year, which has transformed the ties between the two countries. The nuclear deal, Dikshit stressed, will enable India to “leap into the 21st century”.

“The US-India partnership is broad, deep, and flourishing. This building has served generations of American diplomats working in its service,” Mulford said while recalling the formal opening of the chancery building on Jan 5, 1959 in the presence of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

“Even after 50 years, it remains a powerful symbol of the relationship’s future prospects,” he said.

The 50th anniversary of the chancery, in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, was attended by nearly 1,000-strong Indian staff of the US embassy and around 300 American diplomats based here.

The chancery building, which was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone, blends elements of Western and Indian architecture that includes a water garden inside the building.

Then first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of the legendary president John F. Kennedy, was so impressed by the building when she visited India in 1961 that she asked Stone to design the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington on similar lines.

None other than famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright hailed the chancery as “one of the finest buildings in the last 100 years”.

The chancery building also bears testimony to the transformation of India-US relationship over the decades.

“To me this building is symbolic of what can be achieved through the cooperation of our two countries,” said then US ambassador Ellsworth Bunker on the morning of Jan 5, 1959.

In those days, the ties between the two countries were lukewarm at best, marked by the politics of the Cold War era as India championed non-alignment and made it a point to maintain scrupulous distance from big power politics.

Fifty years hence, Mulford, the present occupant of the Roosevelt House, the official residence of the US ambassador, could take justifiable pride in the forging of an all-encompassing strategic partnership, marked by the formal sealing of the path-breaking nuclear pact.

“Things between us have moved to levels unimaginable 50 years ago. It’s a symbol of the important relationships between the two countries,” Mulford said.

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