Emotions ran high both outside and inside the Jakob Javits Center in Manhattan, New York, where Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was scheduled to address the Indian American community on September 21.
Over a hundred Sikhs from the tristate area, answering a call by the Sikh Youth of America, gathered across the street to protest against the 'oppression of Sikhs by India' and to demand the creation of Khalistan.
Inside, the mood was palpably nationalistic as almost 4,000 Indian Americans clapped at approximately every third line of Vajpayee's address.
In his first public meeting as part of his seven-day visit to the city, Vajpayee took the usual route of exhorting the diaspora to do its bit for India, and its representation abroad.
This being a non-political forum -- it was organised by ambassador-at-large for non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin, Bhishma K Agnihotri -- Vajpayee steered clear of Pakistan-bashing, though he did say that "the world needs to know that the roots of terrorism lie outside Afghanistan".
Vajpayee, who shared the stage with External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, Ambassador Lalit Mansingh and Agnihotri, also called upon the NRI community in the US -- as he has done numerous times before -- to be proactive in burnishing India's image in the US. "Indians have enjoyed success and have respect here, but there is little political activism by them," he said. "Other countries lobby politically, you also have to be active in talking about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism."
India's image should be made better, since the Western media doesn't often have the facts, he said. "You are aware of the facts, you are of Indian origin and you can set the record right."
Moreover, he said, India was capable of fighting terrorism, while being closely involved with the global war on terror.
The PM also reminded the community to be loyal to the country of their adoption. "You are citizens of this country and you have to be, and should be, loyal to it, but don't forget your Indian identity," he said. "And remember, we don't want your money, we just want your hearts."
The PM also urged the community -- fractious at the best of times -- to rise above differences of religion, region and language and forge an Indian identity.
"Diversity is a good thing, but you should not diversify so much that your identity is lost," he said. "We are all related by blood, by pain, by tears and by joy, and by the bond of being born of the same mother's womb, and though we are separated by distance, our hearts are close. Do not think you are alone; there are a billion Indians with you."
To drive that point home, the PM also cited the first Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas organised by his government. "This year we will have the second edition, and it will be organised every year from now on," he announced. "We have also initiated dual citizenship for many countries, and the US is one of them."
The PM said his government was working on an insurance plan for NRIs as well as special education programmes for the children of NRIs. "This is the just the beginning, not the end."
He also called upon the community to share its experiences and advice on how to remove poverty, unemployment, and further social development to make India a developed nation by 2020. "From being a debtor nation, we have now been certified as a creditor, even by the World Bank," he told an audience that obviously loved it all, even though they had probably heard it all before. "And from being an importer of food grains, we now export food grains to other countries."
For the most part, though, and as he has done last year, too, the PM preferred to dwell on the growth of the Indian economy, and its space programme, which is schedule to put a man on the moon in the next five years, and to commend the community on its achievements.
"If a list of America's top achievers were to be compiled in every field, from business to engineering to management, there are bound to be Indians in every list," Vajpayee said, citing names such as Jagdish Bhagwati, Hargobind Khurana, Zubin Mehta, and Chandrashekhar.
In keeping with his image of statesman, Vajpayee reiterated that he was not just a politician, but a poet and social and political activist. "As a poet, what greater satisfaction can it be than to have your poems recited in your presence," he said, referring to the rendition of his Kadam Mila Ke Chalna Hoga earlier.
And like last year's public reception, which was hosted by Ambassador Lalit Mansingh, Vajpayee signed off with a recital of his poem Geet Naya Gaata Hoon.