The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Baiters barred, ‘poet’ PM blooms

New York, Sept. 23: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee may not have his way with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its clones in India, but in New York it is a different story.

When representatives of 34 Indian American organisations in the US queued up yesterday to greet Vajpayee here, missing from the line up were leaders of the Vajpayee-baiting hardline outfit along with the equally hardline Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS).

Bhishma K. Agnihotri, India’s ambassador at large for overseas Indians and the host of a largely-attended reception for the Prime Minister, excluded the VHP and the HSS from the reception committee, sources which helped organise the event said.

Vajpayee, who has been at the receiving end of carping criticism from the VHP for months, certainly did not seem to miss them.

On the contrary, he was in a good mood throughout the 90-minute-plus reception, which featured a rendition of one his poems, Kadam Mila Ke Chalna Hoga.

Vajpayee acknowledged his joy over the rendition by saying “what could a poet want more than a recital of his poetry” in his address to the gathering.

Also excluded from the line-up of Indian Americans were Muslim and Christian organisations with agendas similar to those of the VHP and the HSS for their respective religions.

Indian community leaders who attended preparatory meetings for the reception in Agnihotri’s office said a decision was taken at the very first such meeting that religion-based outfits would not be recognised for Vajpayee’s reception.

Thirty-four Indian American organisations were, therefore, shortlisted as organisers of the event, which was hosted by Agnihotri at the sprawling Jacob K. Javits Center here.

All were chosen for their pan-US character.

They were nearly all either professional bodies of Indians in the US or their membership was based on linguistic ethnicity, not on religion.

The strategy certainly brought dividends for Vajpayee in the context of his trip to America at a time when the image of the BJP, almost always described here as a “Hindu nationalist party”, is once again under a cloud in American minds.

The Supreme Court strictures against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and the Ayodhya-related controversies surrounding BJP leaders like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, both of whom are well known in South Asia-linked circles in the US, have not helped the party’s or the BJP-led government’s image here.

But an indication that Agnihotri’s effort to “secularise” his reception had paid off came when Sheik Tayeb Poonawala sought out Indian reporters soon after the event.

Poonawala, president of the Indo-American Interfaith Forum here, is also associated with organisations such as the American Federation of Muslims of India.

He praised Vajpayee for making a “secular speech”, although a large number of his 4,000-plus audience yesterday were BJP supporters.

He also praised the reception for its non-religious character unlike events during Vajpayee’s previous visits to the US.

Ubai Z. Nooruddin, the president of Anjuman-e-Badri in New York, would have liked to have seen more Muslims in the crowd, but said he did not know why they were not there.

Members of the Bohra community attended the reception wearing the cap that distinguishes their community.

To Vajpayee’s surprise, the line-up of 34 leaders included S.S. Malhotra, president of the Indian Overseas Congress, who is widely tipped to take Agnihotri’s place if Sonia Gan- dhi ever became the Prime Minister.

The Congress party outfit and the Overseas Friends of the BJP were the only non- ethnic, non-professional bodies represented among the orga- nisers.

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