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NY Guyanese remember Vajpayee

first_imgDear Editor,New York-based Indo-Guyanese fondly remember Atal Behari Vajpayee, because he conferred a lot of benefits on them and he interacted with them like no other Indian PM ever did. Vajpayee’s love for the diaspora and his humility towards humanity set him apart from his predecessors. And not unexpectedly, Indo-Caribbean people paid glowing tributes to Vajpayee upon his passing last Thursday. They remember him as the leader who institutionalised the relationship of the diaspora with India. They note his outreach with the increase in foreign aid to Africa and the Caribbean.I and other Guyanese had the rare honour of meeting Vajpayee-ji several times in the US and India. Atal-ji, as he was fondly called, had a special affinity for the Indian diaspora, and he met Indo-Caribbean persons with warmth whenever he visited New York.Vajpayee’s first encounter with Indo-Caribbean persons was in September 1977, and again in September 1978, when, as Foreign Minister, he addressed the Indian diaspora on the sidelines of the UN. He addressed the UN in Hindi, the first person to so do at the UN body. He drew loud applause at the UN and at the forums with the diaspora.In September 1990, several Guyanese joined a rally in front of the UN to support India against terror fomented by its neighbour. Vajpayee came out of the UN and applauded the participants for their support to India. Later, at the Waldorf Astoria, he extolled the virtues of the diaspora, including praising Indo-Caribbean people. He was described as perhaps the best orator of India.Vajpayee also interacted with Indo-Caribbean community leaders on other occasions, telling them how impressed he was with their cultural retention and nationalism towards Mother India. In the 1990s, he held several meetings with overseas-based Indian communities.At a meeting at Salaam Bombay restaurant in 1997, Vajpayee heard suggestions from Dharamdatt Durjan Sukhai of Demerara, Ramesh Kalicharran of Essequibo and this writer from Berbice for a global forum of people of Indian descent, and honouring overseas-based Indians who made outstanding contributions to the diaspora and/or India. Dharamdatt suggested the idea of a Kowsilla Bravery Award (named after that courageous Leonara freedom fighter) for those who courageously champion the interests of the Indian diaspora. At that session, Dharamdatt honoured Vajpayee with a Chowkee reminding him he was a bachelor – Vajpayee and the attendees burst into laughter. Vajpayee publicly promised that should the BJP ever form the government at the centre, and if he were to become its PM, he would take measures to implement the suggestion of a global forum of the Indian diaspora.The BJP would eventually come to power (1998) with Vajpayee as PM, and in 2000, Vajpayee appointed a “High Level Committee” to meet with community leaders and media personnel of the diaspora to: assess the status of PIOs like Indo-Caribbean persons and Indo-Fijians, etc. and non-resident Indians (NRIs born in India but residing abroad) and to develop a policy framework to forge a mutually beneficial relationship between the diaspora and India.The Committee, chaired by Dr. L.M. Singhvi, a Member of Parliament, travelled and met the diaspora, including Indo-Caribbean persons in NYC. Indo-Caribbean persons proposed a bi-annual forum of global diaspora in a different country, and honours for Indians who made significant contributions to India or to the diaspora.Vajpayee accepted the recommendations, and he concretised relations with the diaspora through the PBD. The first PBD was held in 2003, with Sir Shridath Ramphal and V.S Naipaul as keynote speakers and honorees. Cricket icon Rohan Kanhai was also on the list of honorees, but he did not attend the PBD. Several Indo-Caribbean journalists were invited to the PBD on all- expense-paid trip to Delhi. President Bharrat Jagdeo was the keynote speaker and honoree at the second PBD. Other Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean persons were honoured at subsequent PBDs. I attended a dozen of the PBDs as a journalist or speaker.The NY Indo-Caribbean community is most grateful to Atal-ji for all the benefits he conferred on the Caribbean and the Indian diaspora, never mind that there has not been much gratitude. They mourn his passing by speaking glowingly of the late PM.Yours truly,Vishnu Bisram (PhD)last_img read more