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March 22, 2000
MPs-turned-fans fawn over Clinton
George Iype in New Delhi
Praise for Mahatma Gandhi. A pat on India's back for moving from the licence-permit raj to panchayat raj. A comparison of India's own Silicon Valley, Bangalore, with Seattle. A quote from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. An allusion to the 'elasticity' of Indian music. For the 814 members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, United States President Bill Clinton's 45-minute-long address had all the emotions of a Hindi movie blockbuster.
They clapped, thrilled at the nationalistic spirit Clinton was instilling in them. They smiled when Clinton explained the elasticity of Indian classical music, saying the people of India and the US must bring raga into their lives. They became emotional when Clinton mentioned the massacre of Sikhs in Kashmir, the Kargil crisis and the hijack of Indian Airlines Flight 814 and the killing of Rupan Katyal.
Result: at the end of the speech and the brief session, most of the Indian MPs had become Clinton fans. The American president was virtually mobbed by the members, irrespective of party affiliation. Every MP wanted to touch him and thank him. Every one wanted to shake hands with the world leader. A parliamentary officer said as many as 300 MPs must have shaken hands with the American president.
"I wanted to shake hands with Clinton and I did. Because I have never heard such a brilliant speech," said actress-turned- Telugu Desam Party politician Jayaprada.
Her colleague, TDP parliamentary party leader K Yerran Naidu, who was seated in the front row, also complimented Clinton: "His speech was more than aimed at building the Indo-US friendship bridge. It rekindled in us the nationalistic spirit of being an Indian," said Naidu, before rushing off to Hyderabad to prepare for the president's visit.
Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi, seated next to External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, muttered something to her party colleague, former finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh, soon after Clinton wound up his speech. But it was not known what her reaction was.
According to Congress MP Ramesh Chennithala, the best part of Clinton's speech was his impromptu quote from the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: "You don't make peace with friends."
"It was the best possible, but forceful phrase from the American president to insist that India and Pakistan should chart out a new course of dialogue and peace," said Chennithala.
But to shake hands with Clinton, the Congress MP said, he had to push aside the others. "I nearly shook hands with him when I was pushed back. I again came forward with much difficulty and spoke a few words with him," Chennithala said with the thrill of a little kid meeting a Bollywood star.
What impressed Congressman Amarsinh Vasant Patil from Karnataka was "Clinton's mention of Bangalore". "The American president may be going to Hyderabad, but he knows Bangalore by name and is convinced that our city is the only one to compete with US cities," Patil remarked.
According to Janata Dal Secular member C Narayanaswamy, it was Clinton's statement that "American wants India to succeed and America wants India to be secure and strong" that made a mark in Parliament. "Clinton was at his brilliant best. Suddenly we became his fans," the MP said.
But the one who scored in the brief session was Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav. Yadav had warned that his party members would boycott Clinton's speech if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not speak in Hindi. Initially, the prime minister's office protested. But Yadav finally had his way as Vajpayee knew that the Samajwadi members could really create a ruckus in front of Clinton.
But MPs belonging to the Left parties, which staged protests nationwide against Clinton's visit, were upset. They said they found it demeaning to watch their colleagues from other parties "behaving childishly". Communist Party of India, Marxist, member P Rajendran said "the pushing and pulling" in the Central Hall of Parliament House to touch the American president showed that "we still behave like slaves before imperialist forces."
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