Sabarmati: Clinton remembers Gandhiji Friday, April 6, 2001
A year after his pilgrimage to Rajghat in Delhi, Bill Clinton retraced the Gandhian path on Thursday, visiting the Sabarmati Ashram, the nerve centre of India's freedom movement.
The former US President spent over 90 minutes at the ashram, interacting with Gandhians and paying homage at the site where the Father of Nation lived for years and launched struggles for the country's independence.
Later, wearing hand spun cotton as garland over his two-piece suit, Clinton sat under a tree and chatted with college students and others on the Gandhian model of development and other issues.
Shutterbugs merrily shot away as Clinton put his hand on the chest when school children sang a song in his honour.
"Thank you for making me welcome at this sacred place so crucial to the followers of India and to the spiritual advancement of the world," Clinton wrote in the ashram's visitors book.
Later, he told reporters that he was overwhelmed by visiting the place "where Gandhi lived pursuing a mission to free India."
During his presidential visit to India in March, 2000, Clinton had played an emotional visit to Rajghat, the 'samadhi' of Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi.
Clinton wound up his tour of Gujarat praising the state government while promising to help "the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time in a lasting way".
"There are many things we can do. We are going to go back and raise money as much as we can, do as much good as we can, as quickly as we can," Clinton, who toured the worst affected Kutch district on Wednesday, told reporters at the Sabarmati Aashram.
"My sole goal here is to do as much quickly as possible in a way that actually gives people the capacity to help themselves," he said.
Clinton, who had prolonged discussions with NGOs in the morning on how to help quake-affected people, said he was interested in coming up with a model which would be helpful in developing other villages in India, Africa, Latin America and East Asia. That may not have had a natural disaster but would like to build a different future.
Praising the Gujarat Government's scheme to share the half the cost with NGOs in rebuilding houses, he said, "Nowhere in the world the government gives money to NGOs. Rather in many parts of the world they hate each other".
"But here the government is encouraging NGOs to build houses," Clinton, who had separate meetings with Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari and Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, said.
On what images of Gujarat he was carrying with him, Clinton said, "The dignity with which people, who lost their children, have borne their grief and tried to work with their neighbour to look to their future."
He said he liked the silver produced in the state and it could be marketed in USA for generating money.
On whether he planned to visit Gujarat again, Clinton, heading a 40-member delegation of American Indian Foundation said, "I intend to come back."
Lending a spiritual touch to his trip to Gujarat, Clinton offered prayers for the state's quake-hit people at the Akshardham Swami Narayan Temple.
After prolonged interaction with non-government organisations on quake relief-related issues, Clinton drove to the temple, where he spent over an hour offering prayers and admiring the architecture.
Clinton, who walked bare-foot over the hot red sandstone floor, placed rose petals before the presiding deity and prayed in silence with folded hands.
"He prayed for the people who were killed and affected by the quake," a member of the delegation accompanying him said.
Dressed in a grey two-piece suit with a blue shirt and a red tie, Clinton stood out in contrast as he walked along the corridors of the large temple with the saffron-robed monks of the Swami Narayan sect.
The monks chanted vedic and other religious hymns and held a special blessing ceremony for the visitor. They also presented him mementoes and literature.
The sect has a large following in the US, particularly among non-resident Indians of Gujarat origin.
Clinton ruled out playing a peacemaker between India and Pakistan but hoped the two South Asian neighbours would make peace.
"I have no official capacity. I am just a citizen. I wish they would make peace," he told reporters when asked whether he intended to be a peacemaker between the two countries.
As President, Clinton had played a crucial role in reducing tension between India and Pakistan during the Kargil conflict.
Twelve-year-old Prutha Desai, whose right hand had to be amputated following an injury sustained by her in the January 26 quake, presented a gift to Clinton.
She presented him a landscape she specially painted for him with her left hand.
On seeing the painting of Desai depicting a river between two mountains, Clinton said, "It's beautiful. I am going to put this up in our home."
Prutha, winner of national awards for her paintings before the earthquake, had her right hand amputated after she was trapped under debris for 32 hours. She now wears a prosthesis.
She said that after losing her right hand, she learnt to paint with her left hand. "If you think you can do it, you can," a confident Prutha said with a smile.
She said she was excited to know that Clinton would put up her painting in his house. "I never imagined he would say that."
News Source - Rediff.com
Concept of rehabilitation needs to be understood: Clinton Friday, April 6, 2001
Former US President Bill Clinton Thursday said the concept of rehabilitation should be properly understood by those seeking to help the quake-hit people of Gujarat.
Talking to representatives of the non-government organisations in an interactive session in Ahmedabad, Clinton said reconstruction could not be construed as rehabilitation.
"A cheque cannot simply change the reality on the ground. What is needed is empowerment of villages concerned and participation of the people in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process. In my opinion, by just making available micro-credit to the affected people, we cannot help change their future."
He said the American Indian Foundation, of which he is a trustee, does not have a ready-made solution to the devastation and havoc created by the earthquake.
"We have come here to learn. I have learnt by talking to the quake-hit people in Kutch, walking with them and visiting the injured."
Suggesting that the NGOs should come out with a clear concept for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the quake-affected areas and people, Clinton threw a question at them asking "What would you do if you were in our position and had some money?"
Stating that he was struck seeing the magnitude of devastation in Kutch, the former US President said evolution of a concept on tackling and mitigating disaster would not only be helpful to India but other developing countries also in similar natural catastrophe.
He said, "Back home they had lot of energy and expertise which could be utilised in this regard."
News Source - Rediff.com
NGOs leave Clinton blank, AIF still keeps chest shut Friday, April 6, 2001
AHMEDABAD: There are NGOs and NGOs and NGOs. Bill Clinton may have sounded quite repetitive when he said over and over again over the last two days that his visit to the quake affected areas was a "learning process". And there is one thing he must have surely learnt during his hour-long interaction with select representatives of the non-government organisations: that there are as many ways of rebuilding Kutch as the number of NGOs working in the quake-hit district.
For the assortment of 'NGOs', who grappled with each other to get invited to this select gathering at Hotel Taj Residency Ummed, it must have been a learning process too. They learnt that the American India Foundation (AIF) , of which the former US president is acting as ambassador, would still not like to say how much money it is willing to deploy in the rehabilitation process, in which priority areas and through whom.
The assortment included some social activists, industrialists, grass-root organisations, religious outfits and even hard-core politicians - all of whom instilled with the sense of pride at having been invited to an event where they would have liked to be seen, much less, heard. After the session, they were all keen to be photographed with the gentleman with a cherry-red tie which went well with the flushed face.
The discussion of the AIF with the NGO representatives in the packed hotel room, drifted for about an hour. Five minutes after Clinton walked in, the press was shown the door, rather rudely, by the McKinsney CEO Rajat Gupta . McKinsey's India head Ashok Alexander was the moderator who channelised the discussion to issues like "what's an NGO" and "what are their idealogies". It took Bill a few moments to realise that the discussion was heading nowhere.
And then he changed the rules of the game. "Perhaps this question has been asked earlier and, if so, my apologies for the same, but I would like you to place yourself in our position and tell us if you had raised big sums of money in the United States for the earthquake affected, what would you be doing with it". The former US president went on to add, "remember, the amount could be anything 10 or 20 or 30 million dollars, it will all depend on how investors see we are using that money".
And then he suddenly came with a mind-boggling figure - $ 100 million. "But even that would be just a small part of what is actually needed for this massive physical and human loss, so you have lots of money which is yet not enough, how best do you use it to create a new future for the people".
The NGOs fumbled with their answers , some of them prefered to keep silent. Some said the money to be put on employment generation, social security insurance, handicrafts, micro-finance and better technology. Others said it should go for permanent disaster management systems . Worse still, the secretary general of Red Cross, Dr Vimla Ramlingam diverted the earthquake debate to AIDS.
All this while, only a handful of newsmen remained present inside the meeting hall, masquerading as NGOs themselves, just like many other politicians and industrialists. Those journalists who were left out because they were not issued passes raised quite a hue and cry but were not let in . They didn't miss much though and Clinton himself summed up the entire discussion informing the gathering about his project on HIV patients , a subject he seems to have learnt a lot, rather than earthquake where he is still in the learning mode.
Clinton charts out battle plan for quake victims Thursday, April 5, 2001
AHMEDABAD: Former US president Bill Clinton held talks on Thursday with relief agencies to map out a strategy for reconstruction work in the quake-devastated Indian state of Gujarat.
One day after touring some of the areas worst hit by the January 26 disaster, Clinton met with a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) here.
The NGOs are hoping for a slice of the $50 million raised by the America India Foundation (AIF), which was set up in the wake of the Gujarat quake with Clinton as chairman.
The former president was also due to meet senior Gujarat government officials before flying to Mumbai.
On Wednesday, Clinton visited the devastated Gujarati townships of Bhuj, Ratnal and Anjar, where he paid tribute to local people for their fortitude in the face of such an "unimaginable" disaster.
The quake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, razed entire towns and villages and left more than one 20,000 people dead and a million people homeless.
Cheering and waving crowds greeted the former president wherever he went, amid heightened expectations the visit would boost relief efforts in the region.
Clinton has said the AIF fund will be used for short and long-term reconstruction in Gujarat, with the foundation working in collaboration with selected NGOs and relief agencies.
Clinton enjoyed a wildly successful five-day presidential state visit to India in March 2000, which infused a new warmth into bilateral ties.
His week-long visit this time around will also see him travel to Kolkata - to visit an orphanage set up by the late Mother Teresa - and New Delhi, where he will have a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Clinton meets govt officials, takes stock Thursday, April 5, 2001
AHMEDABAD: Former US president Bill Clinton on Thursday held meetings with representatives of the Gujarat government and NGOs and took stock of the quake-ravaged state.
Clinton, who visited the worst-affected Kutch district on Wednesday, held an interactive session with NGOs for about two hours on ways to utilise the money raised by the American-Indian Foundation (AIF), which he heads.
Later, Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel made a presentation to Clinton, who is heading a 40-member AIF delegation.
Clinton said on Wednesday that the AIF planned to come out with a focused strategy aimed at among other things providing education to child and employment to the jobless.
There was chaos outside Hotel Taj Residency Ummed, the venue of the meeting, as a large number of journalists representing international, national and local media were prevented from covering the function and made to stand outside for hours.
Agitated mediapersons gheraoed state home minister Harin Pandya, who expressed helplessnes saying only AIF was authorised to allow the media inside.