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September 9, 2000
You have raised India's stature, PM tells NRIs
Amberish K Diwanji in New York
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee praised the Indian community in the United States, telling them their efforts in the US has also helped India in the long run.
Pointing out that India was their matrubhoomi (motherland) and the US was their karmabhoomi (land of destiny), he said Indians in the US comprised one per cent of the population but controlled five per cent of the wealth.
"Not only wealth but in the schools also it is usually Indian children who top their class," he said.
Vajpayee told his audience that their achievements had earned them recognition from across the world and raised the stature of India, and he congratulated them for their success.
The prime minister made his remarks at a reception for him hosted by Indian Ambassador to the US Naresh Chandra, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Friday night. The hall was packed with prominent Indians specially invited for the function.
The prime minister spoke in Hindi, extempore. Journalists were caught unawares since a speech had not been scheduled, and frantically began taking notes.
Clearly, the prime minister was in his element, speaking fluently and freely. He gave free rein to his sentiments which warmed the cockles of the hearts of the assembled non-resident Indians or persons of Indian origin.
Continuing in his fulsome praise for the NRI and PIO, he reminded them how only a few decades ago, it was extremely difficult, nay virtually impossible, for an Indian to get a visa to a Western country. "But today, recognising the ability of Indians, western countries are bending over each other to welcome Indians to their countries," he said, and said this was the result of the effort of the Indians who had migrated overseas.
The prime minister promised to liberalise the visa regime in India, noting that he had heard many complaints from PIOs about the difficulty they faced in getting a visa to visit India.
Turning to the issue of India-United States relations, he said India and US today agreed on most major issues. "We are two natural allies and our relations are growing," he said.
He agreed that Indo-US relations had suffered badly after 1998 (when India carried out nuclear tests and the US in turn imposed economic sanctions on India) but said that much water had flowed under the bridge since then.
He said it was US President Bill Clinton's visit to India in March that really changed the situation for the better. "When Clinton visited India, we thought it would turn a page in our relations. But we found that rather it turned an entire chapter!"
Vajpayee assured his audience that his government would last its full five years in office regardless of reports and rumours to the contrary. When someone from the audience asked him how he managed to run a government made up of 24 disparate parties, he replied, "It is a skill and to learn that skill, you have to come to India!"
The prime minister told his audience that some months ago people used to ask how stable his government was and how long it would last. "But today the question being asked is 'When do we fly down to invest?' "
Dismissing stories about the economic reforms being sidetracked, he assured everyone that economic liberalisation was on track and would continue. "Our economy today is a success, achieving a high growth rate," he pointed out.
Also present at the reception was External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who also spoke briefly. But the evening clearly belonged to the prime minister who showed no sign of discomfort or the knee ailment that has been troubling him of late.
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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