The dreaded 'K' word seems to be dogging Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee all through his American sojourn.
The moment he landed in New York, a raucous group kept up the chant 'Free Kashmir'. Whether it was outside his hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, or outside the United Nations General Assembly, there was no way he could avoid the 100-odd people.
Such being the paucity of real Kashmiris in the Big Apple, the organisers of the protest, whose identity cannot be a matter of speculation, had apparently to fall back on hired hands.
The ones carrying placards bearing the message, 'Stop Human Rights Violations in Kashmir,' (while helping themselves to a variety of American canned drinks, one should add) more likely belonged to Multan, a province in Pakistan!
Pretending to be a Punjabi from Lahore, an Indian newsman struck up a conversation with some of them. "The distinctively harsh Multani twang dominated our exchanges," he told us.
Your government and our government
Another kind of protesters, this time of the secular variety, kept its date with the Vajpayee entourage in the US.
Outside the media centre at the Radisson Hotel, Manhattan, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of India, who is a self-styled secularist to boot, distributed copies of what she called 'Press Advisory.'
It made the astounding claim that over 150 progressives -- read Leftists affiliated to the Communist organisations -- held demonstrations against the 'crimes against humanity' committed by various Hindu organisations.
Though minuscule in number, the progressive protesters, who had taken the trouble to travel all the way from India to hold a mini-mini protest outside the Waldorf Astoria, found a kindred soul in the PM's media party. The executive editor of a Madras-based newspaper went to some lengths to advertise her agreement with the export of divisive domestic politics to the streets of New York.
Incidentally, there was much amusement at a reception to honour the PM in New York when the same editor-owner, while talking to a senior Indian journalist, repeatedly referred to the Vajpayee government as 'your government.'
Unable to ignore the secularist slight, the journalist retorted: "Now don't tell me a handful of you secularists have set up a government in exile that you refuse to own up in the US that the Vajpayee government speaks for all Indians and not just the saffron combine."
The loud put-down had a welcome effect: the owner-editor hurriedly made herself scarce.
Where the power is...
Trust the Hindujas to be where the action is.
They may have surrendered their Indian passports after the Bofors scandal. But they continue to be interested in all things Indian, especially those offering an opportunity to power, or be close to power.
So it wasn't surprising that one of them was around at the Asia Society dinner held to honour Vajpayee
Doing duty for the wealthy trio was Srichand P Hinduja. Despite being a persona non grata with the official establishment in New Delhi, there was no dearth of people eager to be seen with him.
Almost the first to buttonhole him was the leading light of the Sangh Parivar's media set-up. A key member of RSS boss K S Sudershan's inner circle, the diminutive though domineering editor of the Sangh mouthpiece talked animatedly to Hinduja for quite some time.
A Doordarshan anchor then interrupted the pow-wow. So taken up was he with Hinduja that he wanted to feature him in a programme on the PM's US visit.
Luckily, one of Vajpayee's aides reminded him that the Central Bureau of Investigation wanted to interrogate Hinduja, and so would he mind perishing such thoughts?
Lost, Vajpayee the orator
Vajpayee's numerous media advisers do him no good when they insist that he read a prepared text than speak extempore.
Blandly reading from the written text, the silver-tongued Vajpayee comes across flat and insipid, especially when the benchmark to judge him is his past performances.
The result is that people end up panning his 'reading' far more harshly than they would in the case of other leaders.
Compounding the problem, doubtless, is the painkillers that Vajpayee is regularly administered for his knee condition. Drowsy and distracted, he chooses to go through the motions of reading speeches, little realising the disappointment of his audience.
Indeed, in New York the gulf between a 'speaking-Vajpayee' and a 'reading-Vajpayee' was clear to Indian-Americans when he spoke extempore at a reception hosted by Ambassador Naresh Chandra.
The audience, to say the least, was delighted.
A couple of years ago, the legendary Indian wrestler Dara Singh was walking through the Lodhi Gardens in New Delhi when he was accosted by a senior bureaucrat's wife.
"Are you the famous Dara Singh?" she asked in disbelief.
Yes, he was, Singh answered.
Whereupon came the lady's protest. "But you limp!"
To which the matman-turned-film actor replied: "Mein bhi to insaan hain, behnji. Merye bhi ta ghoday jawad de sakde hain [I too am human, after all. My knees too can pack up and cause trouble]."
What is true of Dara Singh is equally true of Vajpayee. He has a bad knee condition. Doctors would like him to undergo surgery, but Vajpayee is unwilling to remain out of commission for the three weeks it would take to recuperate. So he underwent all possible treatment short of replacing his worn kneecaps in the US.
Incidentally, Dr Chittaranjan S Ranawat, the orthopaedic surgeon hailing from Madhya Pradesh, is widely acknowledged as the best knee surgeon in the US. Close to 40,000 knee replacement operations are conducted in the US every year. And Dr Ranawat conducts a good number of them.
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