So Narendra Modi has finally landed in America to much hype and excitement more than a decade after his last visit. And my mind rewinds to the year 2000 when I was covering another Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to the US. Vajpayee didn't have a schedule quite as packed as Mr Modi, nor was he as voluble, but whenever he did make a public appearance, he almost always made news ( it perhaps helped that there were fewer tv channels then, so we didn't have to 'create' news). Vajpayee was addressing a VHP organized function in Staten Island when he famously remarked 'once a swayamsevak, always a swayamsevak'. The VHP-supporting NRI audience wildly cheered. On stage, were the likes of Acharya Dharmendra, known for his fiery speeches during the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation and a motley gathering of sants, sadhus and overseas BJP supporters.
Also present that day was a certain Mr Narendra Modi. In the summer of 2000, Mr Modi had been virtually in exile in New York: he was on the wrong side of the BJP's internal war, was accused of fomenting infighting and had been kept out of his home state of Gujarat too. New York offered him some comfort: the non resident Gujaratis were most hospitable to a politician whose career appeared on a downward spiral. Modi had spent several months in New York and clearly seemed to be enjoying himself. When Modi went to greet Vajpayee, the former prime minister in his characteristic style shot back: 'Arre Narendrabhai, aap yahan? Kitne din rahoge America mein. Ab India vapas aa jaiye!' Modi returned to India, became Gujarat chief minister a year later, and the rest,as they say, is history. The moral of the story: never write off anyone, especially a politician.