The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Goans party despite VIPs

Panaji, Jan. 1: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is ensconced in a quiet holiday on the silvery sands of Benaulim, a former fishing village, now home to a luxury hotel. The rest of Goa is busy partying, thick with holiday crowds that make a beeline for this place during this time of the year.

Reports emerging from the Taj Exotica hotel in the sleepy village of Benaulim, 40 km from here, said the Prime Minister and his large entourage — numbering an estimated 100 guests, including his foster family, and members of the Special Protection Group — were sequestered at one end of the resort.

Vajpayee has a presidential suite with a private “plunge pool”, amidst the settings of which the Prime Minister penned his “musings” from Goa.

Incidentally, the tiny state of Goa (population 1.35 million) has become intricately linked with the transformation of Prime Minister Vajpayee — in April he took a hardline Hindutva stand, blaming the Godhra massacre for the Gujarat carnage. Now, he seems to be putting on a more tolerant face in his latest missive from here.

This lies in a resort sprawling over 56 acres and which houses what has been called “India’s first Mediterranean restaurant”, and serves Goan food, besides Guandong cuisine from China. The hotel, one of Goa’s newest luxury properties, packages itself as a “56-acre Eden”.

Other facilities include luxury rooms with Jacuzzi and a lounge bar named after colonial Portuguese poet Camoens. Aerobics, yoga, spas, beauty salons, indoor sports and card tables, exclusive private dining rooms and water sports are also on offer to visitors here, together with a 4,600-square-feet ballroom that can take in 1,000 people.

“There is top-level security. It is very tight,” said a hotel source.

“We were chosen to play close to where he was on Sunday. But all guests came towards the Prime Minister and started clapping, so securitymen changed the anticipated route,” said Emiliano da Cruz, a Goan musician specialising in Latino and local Konkani music.

After Vajpayee leaves Goa, home minister L.K. Advani will visit here. Besides him, some 20 other Union Cabinet ministers, US ambassador Robert Blackwell and a lady identified as a Russian princess are on a visit to Goa.

Others headed for what is considered to be the country’s most happening place at this time of the year include Union ministers Sahib Singh Verma and Shahnawaz Hussain, cinestar-turned-politician Vinod Khanna, beer baron-politician Vijay Mallaya and information and technology minister Pramod Mahajan.

Some luxury hotels in the state, proud of their guests’ lists, have also been offering journalists stays to “report” on their making it big time.

But not all locals saw it the same way. Some from insurgency-hit Kashmir were quoted as saying that they were told to shut shops during the peak tourism season.

“It’s very, very annoying. Why should the Prime Minister bring the whole lot of people to Benaulim (interrupting village life)'” asked an elderly woman from the village.

“Without grudging the Prime Minister his holiday, it has both positive and negative impacts. Once or twice (when such visits happen), it may seem like a great honour. But not when it happens so often,” said her septuagenarian husband.

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