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September 18, 2000
'Together, India and America can change the world'
Savera R Someshwar in Washington
The verdict was actually out the day before yesterday. The prime minister's state visit to the United States of America was an unqualified success. For those who still needed some more reassurance, it came at the banquet hosted by US President Bill Clinton at the White House on Sunday evening for Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
"It is more than a slogan for Americans to say," Clinton told the 698-strong gathering at the toast he raised for the prime minister, "that India's success will be our success, and that together India and America can change the world."
He reiterated the growing warmth between India and the US for by thanking Vajpayee for helping build together the strongest, most mature partnership that has ever existed between India and America.
Clinton once again paid tribute to India's IT expertise by pointing out that Indian Americans now run more than 750 companies in Silicon Valley alone. He talked about how, in India, the best information available on maternal health and agriculture could now be downloaded by a growing number of villages with Internet hook-ups. Of how Indian Americans could now get online with people across the world who speak Telugu or Gujarati or Bengali.
Paying tribute to the increasing popularity of Indian authors across the world, he said even Americans have fallen in love with Indian novels. But seemed pleased with the fact that the prime minister, when not writing Hindi poetry, actually likes to read John Grisham. "You might be interested to note, Mr Prime Minister," he told Vajpayee, "that he is a distant relative of mine. All the Grishams of money are distant relatives of mine."
On Friday, during the prime minister's visit to the White House, Clinton had told External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh that he had to turn away numerous requests for Sunday's dinner. This, despite the fact, that it would be the largest-ever state dinner - in terms of invitees - ever hosted by the Clinton administration in eight years in office.
"There are more than 1 million Indians here in America now. And I think more than half of them are here tonight," he said to much laughter and applause. "And I might say, Prime Minister, the other half are disappointed that they are not here."
The president noted the increasing scope and interdependence in the relationship between India and the US, with hundreds of American businesses, foundations and universities choosing to pursue long commitments to India. "When Americans call Microsoft for customer support today," he said, "they are as likely to be talking to someone in Bangalore or Hyderabad as to someone in Seattle."
But he also inserted a word of caution. He said the Indo-US interdependence also made them vulnerable to each other's problems, particularly economic turmoil, infectious diseases, the spread of deadly military technology, terrorists, drug traffickers and criminals.
He added that since the two nations were already in the same boat, they had better find a way to steer together. 'We must overcome the fear some people in both our countries sometimes have, for different historical reasons, that if we meet our friends halfway, somehow it will threaten our own independence or uniqueness."
The president pointed that both nations had a lot to learn from each other. He believed that, while both societies faced virtually every challenge humanity knows, the solutions too could be found within the two societies: in their confidence in democracy, tolerance for diversity and their willingness to embrace economic and social change.
He won the hearts of the Indian community by pointing out, "Whether we are in California or Calcutta, we all want to be a crorepati. Now, for the culturally challenged Americans among us, that's from India's version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire."
If Clinton captivated the Indian community, Vajpayee enchanted the invitees with the grace culture that characterises his Lok Sabha constituency, Lucknow.
"I owe my presence here today principally to two persons, widely separated in time and also in space," said Vajpayee. "One was the explorer, Christopher Columbus, who set sail for India but landed in America. I sometimes wonder where you would be, or where we would be, if he had actually reached India. The other, to whom I owe a personal debt, is the President of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton. Had you, Mr President, not rediscovered India, I would truly not have the honor of enjoying your gracious hospitality, or replying to your most generous toast."
He complimented the US president for appreciating India's increasingly global role. "Mr President, it is a reflection of your statesmanship that you saw the simple truth... It is a testimony of your courage and leadership that you dare to cross the territory of doubts to reach out to the hearts of the Indian people. And it is tribute to your efforts that the manner in which we approach each other is being fundamentally transformed."
In the previous century, he said, there were many ideas that competed for the soul of the world. He believed, though, it was the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and Woodrow Wilson that would triumph.
The prime minister thanked everyone who had contributed to the closer partnership that now existed between the United Stated and India. He particularly thanked Hillary Clinton for taking the time off from her senatorial campaign in New York state to host the banquet in the middle of a hectic election campaign. "As a parliamentarian of 40 years standing," he told her, "and speaking from the experience of many elections, I applaud your presence here today."
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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