Amberish K Diwanji


Unlike his speech at the Asia Society the previous night, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's address to the United Nations Millennium Summit was thoroughly impressive, and not for the content but the way it was delivered.

At the Asia Society dinner, where Vajpayee was felicitated, he spoke in English. He spoke hesitantly, even fumbling at one point, and looked as though he was still to get over the long flight from India.

But at the Summit, he looked refreshed and charged up. His delivery was crisp and forceful. Unfortunately, since he chose to speak in Hindi, few heard the tone and tenor of his voice, as virtually the entire audience was listening to translators.

The prime minister had come well-stocked with a new set of bandh gala (closed) coats. Today, he was dressed in a dark blue coat, which looked new and crisp. At the Asia Society he was in a gray bandh gala suit. Quite different from the dhoti and coat one sees him in while he is in India.

Vajpayee spoke on the last day of the Millennium Summit, which ran for three days from September 6 to 8. He was the 27th speaker, preceded by the representative from the Republic of Malta and succeeded by Yeshey Zimba, Bhutanese chairman of the council of ministers.

This will be one set of protestors that must surely embarrass any government that claims to speak for the Hindus or for Hindu symbol. Now, ask anyone which animal he or she associates with Hinduism and the answer is simple and straight: it is the Holy Cow!

And horror of horrors, there were blue-blooded Americans, the very same who love their steaks as they do the apple pie, actually demanding that India must treat its cows more decently alongside the Khalistanis, Kashmiris, the Indian Christians and the dalits.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among whose legion is one Jackie Chan, was demanding that cows being led to slaughter be treated with respect and transported in humane conditions. To top it all, one of the protestors was dressed up as a cow. Luckily he spared us the moos!

Of course, the BJP has an answer to this problem: ban cow slaughter!

New York is the one place in the world where all peoples meet... and sometimes marry.

This point was driven home forcefully when, rushing to the UN media hall to catch Vajpayee's speech, I bumped across a Spanish-speaking guy called Armando, who worked at the UN. Told him I was looking for a computer to report on Vajpayee's speech.

"Yeah, even I want to hear his speech," said Armando, "and tell my wife about it."

Your wife?

"Yeah, she is an Indian, from Ahmedabad!"

Now that is one heck of a combination of paella and dahi kadi!

Security is crawling all over the UN building and surrounding areas, though by Friday, the last day of the Summit, the tension seemed palpably less.

It is not just the cops in the blue uniforms and their cars with blazing sirens, but even the East River, on whose banks stands the UN building, was awash with NY police boats and a US Coast Guard vessel.

Overhead, two helicopters constantly hovered to ensure that no maniacal terrorist gets the chance to deprive the world of its top political leaders. Certainly it would be tempting to a terrorist group, what with virtually the entire world represented here, besides media representatives from every country. What publicity!

The UN is swarming with Indians. At all levels, right from the cook in the kitchen up to the Secretary General's office, where perhaps the best known Indian name is Shashi Tharoor.

J N Dixit, former Indian foreign secretary, had once complained that Indian officials and bureaucrats in India are always desperately seeking a posting at the UN, which is very difficult since the UN has more than a fair sprinkling of Indians, often at the cost of the other countries.

A visit to the UN proves that he is right. Most of the Indians are directly employed by the UN, thanks to their ability to speak English. An Indian need never feel lost in this huge building where every skin colour can be seen and almost every language heard.

Amberish Diwanji is keeping an Argus eye on the prime ministerial entourage

See the complete coverage of The Vajpayee Tour

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