Thursday, Sep 25, 2003
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By Harish Khare
He cited Ms. Gandhi's behaviour as evidence of the Indian democracy's vibrancy while speaking at an Indian community reception hosted in his honour by the Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Lalit Mansingh.
Putting in one of his extempore performance, the Prime Minister regaled the audience with humour and sometimes with self-deprecating wit.
The praise for Ms. Gandhi came in the context of the Prime Minister's argument that foreign policy had always been conducted in a bipartisan manner.
While he regretted that some of the Left parties had opposed and demonstrated against the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent visit, Mr. Vajpayee thought that it was courageous of Ms. Gandhi to break ranks with the "third front" crowd.
He could not resist taking a dig at some of the former Prime Ministers who had issued a joint statement against Mr. Sharon's visit.
In a similar vein, Mr. Vajpayee recalled how on December 13, 2001 when the terrorists had attacked Parliament House, a rather worried Ms. Gandhi had telephoned him, wanting to be assured of his safety. On his part, he was worried about her security.
This kind of concern, according to him, meant that the future of democracy in India was safe.
The reception became an evening of mutual admiration, with the Prime Minister acknowledging the Indian-American community's success as well as telling the NRIs that India was on the move.
The tone for the evening was set by Mr. Mansingh who was at his syrupy best in praising the Prime Minister' leadership.
But Mr. Vajpayee used the evening to gently rebuke the Indian-American community for allowing itself to be divided into caste and regional associations, instead of forging itself into a collective voice of two million-strong, a voice that should speak up in defence of India's diplomatic and political interests.
Acknowledging that he headed a seemingly unwieldy coalition, he assured his audience that he was presiding over a stable arrangement.
Jokingly he added that he was often asked how many parties formed his coalition and that he invariably replied that he had lost count; "some keep leaving, some keep coming, but the core has remained stable and constant."
Mr. Vajpayee narrated an incident when he visited New York in 1957 as a member of a Parliamentary delegation.
At a function the former Defence Minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, saw him standing in a back row in an auditorium and called him to come forward. Heeding the call, he moved to the front, Mr Vajpayee said. "From then (on), I started moving forward,'' he said.
The audience burst into laughter when Mr. Vajpayee said that in India there was no dearth of former Prime Ministers. "Their strength will go up soon," he added.
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