The Rediff US Interview/ Mike Patel
Mukesh 'Mike' Patel first came to
play soccer in Atlanta. Today, with his brother R C Patel, he
owns the successful Diplomat hospitality group.
Mike showed his leadership qualities when he headed the Asian American
Owners Association, AAHOA. Last May, President Bill Clinton appointed
Patel to serve on the advisory commission on Asian Americans and
A founder-member of the American
Foundation, Mike is in India to make the final arrangements for
Clinton's visit to the earthquake-ravaged Kutch region of Gujarat next
In an exclusive interview to rediff.com Senior Editor Sheela
Bhatt, late on Thursday night, he discussed how the former US
president will provide impetus to the relief operations in Gujarat.
What's the background to Mr Clinton's visit?
The American Indian Foundation was formed 10 days after the earthquake.
After stepping down from office, Mr Clinton wanted to enjoy life. But
the earthquake was an emergency. It touched his heart. He agreed to
become chairman of the Foundation. (The Indus Entrepreneurs
president) Kailash Joshi, (Managing Director, Bears
Sterns) Anil Bhandari and myself were speaking with him about the
earthquake and relief measures.
Does he know about the extent of the devastation?
He knows all about it. He has offered all help to us. He joined the
dinner in San Jose. Deepak Chopra also joined the meeting without
We are very clear in our objectives. Three years down the line, we want
the Foundation to work in other parts of India. We want it to develop it
on the line of the Jewish American Foundation.
Some believe the Foundation will become a launch pad for Mr Clinton's
It is a humanitarian act. Sometimes you mellow down in life. He is the
most popular person (in America) and very much in demand on
lecture circuit. He can get anything upwards of $ 150,000 to deliver a
lecture. But he is coming to Gujarat because it is a matter of his
Mr Clinton says the people of India are very special to him. He has a
India. I speak to him regularly. He said he was impressed by the hotels
here, the doctors and other professionals. He also remembers dancing
with the women in Rajasthan. His tour to Gujarat was overdue, purely for
How do you feel about this trip?
Fabulous! I am feeling good. Being a Gujarati, I feel very proud that
Gujarat is getting the benefits of the Foundation's first-ever service
project. Let me tell you, to pursue a President's visit is not easy. I
feel Mr Clinton should have come to Gujarat a long time ago. Now that
the Foundation is able to work out this visit, I feel good. I will
intensify efforts to raise money. I also plan to go to England to get
funds for Kutch. Being a Gujarati, I feel it is my duty.
What will he do besides visiting the earthquake-hit areas?
He will meet NGOs. They are doing quite good work. We are looking for
partners in relief work. He has an articulate brain and picks up issues
very fast. He will meet the Gujarat government too. In turn he will
advise trustees in planning and funding of the relief work in Kutch.
We are planning to open an office in Ahmedabad. He will help us select
the NGOs. McKinsey will help screen the NGOs.
How much money do you have to start with?
Ten million dollars. We raised it in four weeks. We hope to raise another $ 30
million in one year's time. The AIF's fund raising efforts will be kept
People are skeptical about such huge, much publicized "shows".
I don't care. I care to help. How the money comes, from whom it comes, I
don't care. I don't want kids to sleep on the streets. I want homes for
poor people. This project is above politics. The AIF is setting a
footprint for relief work which will extend to other parts of India.
How did you convince Mr Clinton to make the tour?
There was no need to convince him. Ramesh Kapoor, Anil Bhandari, Rajat
Kapoor, myself, Kailash Joshi talked to him. For him it was a matter of
the heart. He was convinced himself.
How will you ensure that the funds are utilized properly?
Krishnan, a member of our team, will monitor it. She will approve
the sanctions, she will deal with the NGOs. Let me tell you, we are
more concerned with credibility. At the end of the day, Gujarat should
appreciate that people from
different states of India are pulling together to help Gujarat.
I think it is fabulous. Let some people be sarcastic. We are not
here to listen to critics. Deepak Chopra and others like him care for
It is not a question of $ 7 million or $ 8 million, even a donation
of $ 100 is important. We are not here to impress anyone. I don't care
what critics feel. We have a commitment to the poor. We don't want them
suffer more. Money is not going into our pockets, the money is for the
people. We have nothing to hide.
What is Mr Clinton's itinerary like?
He will come to New Delhi on April 3. He will visit Gujarat on April 4.
He will visit Bhuj on April 5. From Ahmedabad he will fly to Mumbai and
there again to New Delhi. He is planning a short trip to Calcutta. On
Friday, I expect to meet (India's) Home Minister L K Advani to
discuss plans for the visit. You can say that Mr Clinton is on a fact
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