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September 8, 2000
Health problems not evident as PM delivers flawless performance at UN
Savera R Someshwar at the UN
There were just two questions on everyone's mind.
Would the prime minister of India -- who has been suffering from a severe knee problem and who will, during the duration of his stay in New York, consult orthopaedic surgeon Dr Chittaranjan Ranawath at the Mount Sinai hospital -- be able to stand through his five minute address to the United Nations General Assembly?
And, was India going to give a befitting reply to Pakistan chief executive General Pervez Musharraf's attempts to make the Indo-Pak dispute on Kashmir an international issue?
Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose not to mention Pakistan by name, even as he sent General Musharraf a clear and unambiguous message, "Many statesman-like words have been delivered from this high tribune. Unfortunately, some of them are a mockery of the truth. The world must see the reality as it is. The acid test of sincerity of purpose is not words, but deeds. Terrorism and dialogue do not go together."
In the longer version of his speech, which will remain on record in the UN, the prime minister went on to add, "Those who have stifled democracy at home speak of freedom from this forum. Those who have engaged in the clandestine acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery systems talk of ridding South Asia of these. Those who have repudiated solemn covenants talk of new agreements to prevent war. The authors of a vicious terrorist campaign that has claimed more than 30,000 innocent lives in India, who actively sabotaged a historic peace initiative, are now offering new initiatives for dialogue."
Vajpayee -- who began his speech at 1220 hours, 40 minutes before his scheduled slot at 1300 hours -- spoke without hesitation, in flawless and stylish Hindi. It was a style different from the one he adopted when he led the Bharatiya Janata Party to victory in the general election last year.
It was also a marked improvement on his speech at the Asia Society dinner on Thursday evening -- where he spoke hesitantly, even fumbling at one point and looking as though he was to still recover from the long flight from India.
Yet, the UNGA did not see Vajpayee at his oratorical best. There were moments when his voice cracked, though the speech did gain in tone as he progressed.
The prime minister -- elegantly dressed in a crisp, dark blue bandh gala -- looked refreshed. But lines of tiredness were etched on his face, as he was assisted to the podium and an assistant placed a copy of the speech in front of him.
The prime minister did not let his personal problems affect his mission at the UN. He lent India's support to Secretary General Kofi Annan's proposal for an international conference to address nuclear dangers, while making clear the fact that India was forced to take up the nuclear option in order to defend peace. He also urged the international community to act against terrorism "before it was too late."
India has made no secret of its ambition to be a member of the UN Security Council. The prime minister censured the Security Council for not reflecting the changes in the international world order. "India is," he affirmed, "ready to play its role in an expanded Security Council."
He ended his five minute speech -- one of the shortest ever for Vajpayee -- with a shokla invoking blessings on the world. He then walked out slowly, as the assistant and his security detail hovered around him protectively.
Lending the prime minister additional support was a full Indian table -- External Affairs minister Jaswant Singh, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Najma Heptullah, Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh, India's Ambassador to the US Naresh Chandra and India's permanent representative at the UN, Kamlesh Mehta.
rediff.com has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into rediff.com for news of this historic visit as it happens!
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