Washington: Efforts to have a Diwali postage stamp in US, it received a big push on Thursday when over 1,300 letter petitions, in addition to 400,00 signatures in an online campaign, were presented to US Postal Service by influential lawmakers and community leaders at the Capitol Hill.

A top postal official hoped that the long awaited decision on this could come in as soon as two weeks. "I am optimistic that the Citizens Stamp Advisory Commission (of the US Postal Service) will respond favorably to the 1,300 signatures presented Thursday, and the 400,000 signatures presented in the online campaign," Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said after presenting these petitions to Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman.

Maloney was joined by Ami Bera, the only serving Indian-American in the current Congress, and the Indian American couple from New York - Ravi and Ranju Batra - who led the petition campaign, in presenting these Diwali postage stamp petitions to the Deputy Postmaster General.

"Today's meeting with the Deputy Postmaster General is another important step on the road to a Diwali stamp," said Maloney who has been instrumental in gathering about 40 lawmakers in writing a joint Congressional letter to the Citizens Stamps Advisory Committee on the need to issue a postage stamp commemorating Diwali.

Among them include Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu lawmaker in the US Congress. It is on behalf of the Postmaster General, the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) is tasked with evaluating the merits of all stamp proposals. Though the committee can only advise the Postmaster General, its advice is always adhered to by the US Postal Service.

It is learnt that the issue of Diwali stamp is the only agenda item on the CSAC, which is scheduled to meet this week. "A Diwali stamp has been long overdue," Bera said, hoping that with hundreds of people writing letters and thousands signing online petitions, the USPS would finally take a call on it and move forward.

"This makes sense," Bera said referring that almost all the major religions and communities in the US have a postage stamp. "There is a tremendous excitement across the Indian American and across the Hindu community. I think, we made a pretty compelling case," he said.

"I think it will happen," a confident Bera said and urged the Indian-American community to write letters to the CSAC. Noting that the USPS has an independent body of distinguished people who make decisions on the stamp, Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman said the CSAC would be looking at the issue of Diwali stamp over the next two weeks.

"Hopefully, we should have a decision very soon," Stroman said. "It's on their (CSAC members) docket. They are aware of it. They are familiar with it. They have lot of support for it. Obviously there are lots of requests for stamps, but they are taking Diwali stamp very seriously. So my hope is that in the next two weeks we should have a decision on this stamp," Stroman said after receiving these petitions.

"The support that I have seen for this (Diwali stamp) is overwhelming. I have never seen (for the time I have been in this office), the amount of signatures advocating for a particular stamp, that I have seen today," Stroman said, adding that he would convey the sense and the depth of commitment that he has heard and seen for this Diwali stamp.

"We are closer than ever before, and we will not stop until our Diwali Stamp is issued," said Ranju Batra, chair of Diwali Stamp Project. "When the USPS decides, sooner rather than later, to issue the Diwali Stamp 'E Pluribus Unum' shall include Hindu-Americans too," said Ravi Batra, a New York-based eminent Indian-American attorney.

Maloney, who has been leading the campaign among the US lawmakers, told the Deputy Postmaster General, that a Diwali stamp would be a strong demonstration of country's religious diversity and inclusiveness while also providing an important new revenue opportunity for USPS.

Observing that the USPS has issued stamps for other popular holidays in the US including Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Eid, she said it is now time for stamp to honor Diwali. Since 2007, Diwali has been celebrated at the White House and now President Barack Obama himself participates in the White House Diwali celebration.

The first city in the US to sponsor an official Diwali celebration was San Antonio, Texas, of which 5,000 people were in attendance. "It is time the USPS issue a stamp in honor of Diwali, a major and important holiday to millions of Americans in this country. With the financial burdens that the USPS currently faces, Diwali would be a popular stamp design choice throughout the country, which could provide a helpful boost at this difficult time," Maloney said.

(Agencies)

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