Tuesday, Sep 23, 2003
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India & World
By Harish Khare
The Prime Minister was addressing a "public meeting" organised by Bhishma K.Agnihotri, Ambassador-at-Large for Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin. The 4,000-capacity Jacob Javits Convention Center was brimming with members of the Indian community, who had come to hear the Prime Minister.
Mr. Vajpayee said that Indians living in the United States had a responsibility to correct the negative image of India. He was of the view that most of these reports were based either on incomplete familiarity with facts or on some preconceived notions, and since the Indian-Americans were well versed with the realities and complexities of India, it was their obligation to rectify these negative and unhelpful images and perceptions.
India was changing, was strong and was on the road to prosperity. Even before "9/11" India had to cope with the menace of terrorism and India was now part of the global war on terrorism. "But we are capable of fighting our own battle. We will prevail. We want the international opinion to play its role in this battle. I want to tell (the international community) that the roots of terrorism were not just confined to Afghanistan; these can be located in some other countries, too." The indirect reference to Pakistan was not lost on the audience and the Prime Minister was loudly applauded.
`Don't forget duties to India'
Though Mr. Vajpayee acknowledged that since the Indian-Americans had acquired American citizenship they ought to be loyal to the United States, yet at the same time they could not become totally oblivious to their "duties" and "obligations" to their motherland. He catalogued all that his Government had done for Overseas Indians (including the setting up of the Office of the Ambassador-at-Large) and then invited them to share and work for the dream to make India a developed nation by 2020.
On his part, Mr. Vajpayee gave the obligatory salute to the "achievements" of the Indian-American community, especially in the areas of medicine, engineering, information technology, etc.
The Prime Minister also addressed himself to the perennial source of anxiety that any immigrant group faces what if the environment in the host country should turn hostile. India did not look upon them as mere investors. "We have blood ties, and we share moments of grief, pain and happiness. You will never find yourself alone. You can count on the support and solidarity of one billion Indians." And, the crowd cheered the loudest.
There was also a hint of rebuke from Mr. Vajpayee for the "pravasi bharatiya". He told the "successful Indian-Americans" to heed the essence of his poem, "Kadam milla kar chalane ho gaa" ("We Will Have to March In Unison"), which was recited earlier. Also they should not import the divisions and the habits of divisiveness.
Ironically, this advice came moments after Mr. Vajpayee had been greeted by the representatives of 34 associations, representing various regions and professional affiliations among the Indians. Of course, there was no representation of the Indian Muslims in the tableau of inclusiveness that the organisers wanted to project; according to ambassador Agnihotri, "they" were invited but the offer was spurned. And once, he said, the Muslims declined, he decided to keep out organisations such as the "VHP". However, a small group of traditionally-dressed Bohra Muslims could be identified in the audience.
Mr. Vajpayee ended his speech with one of his poems. And, the poet in him was in his element as he animatedly recited the familiar "geet naya gata hoon". The audience loved every bit of it.
The only sour note in an otherwise perfect evening was a demonstration by about 200 Sikhs outside the Javit Center. They were raising pro-Khalistani slogans, but were kept away at a decent distance by the New York police.
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