Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America

Maheshbhai: A Legendary Karmayogi

Very rarely a person is unreplaceable and Maheshji was one of these rarities.  For Hindus in the USA, he is and will remain unreplaceable.  He is the only person I knew who, without any break, consistently and tirelessly worked for Hindus at least since 1969, when residing in California, I first talked to him.

We were both Sangh Swayamsevaks since our childhood and third year OTC trained (at that time Nandaji was another third year OTC trained in the USA), we became friends, in fact, like brothers. In1969, I had started a Shakha in Berkely, the first one in the USA.  Maheshji and I started discussing how to organize Hindus in the USA.  He suggested that it would be better to start a chapter of VHP.  In 1970, we had discussions with then Sangh Sar Karyavah Bala Saheb Deoras Ji about starting a VHP Chapter in the USA.  He recommended naming the organization as Hindu or Bharatiya Swayam Sevak Sangh.  Maheshji did not like these names as he believed that Bharatiya might be considered as a being loyal to India vis-à-vis the USA.  Thus, some Hindus in the U.S. might have not been comfortable with the name BSS or HSS.  Finally, Bala Sahebji agreed with the starting of a VHPA in the USA.  With Maheshji’s magnetic personality, a number of Hindus were attracted towards VHP and became VHPA’s members.  Many of these had no affiliation with VHP or RSS in India.

Maheshji had all the qualities needed to establish and grow an organization:  he was a great organizer, thinker, very persuasive, pleasant and convincingly communicative.  He was a great speaker, writer and had a clear concept of Hinduism and the need of fostering Hindu values among the Hindus who had migrated into the USA.  Under his guidance, the formation for other Sangh affiliated activities started such as Indians for Democracy (IFD), Friends of India Society International (FISI), HSS, Hindu Students Council (HSC), Ekal Vidyalaya, and India Development and Relief Fund (“IDRF”).

I remember an interesting incident.  In 1970 or 1971, Akshay Kumar Jain, then the editor or Nava Bharat Times, a very popular daily newspaper in India, came to the USA.  His visit was a part of an Indian delegation sponsored and funded by the U.S. government.  When he was in New York, he had some dispute with an U.S. government official and he quit the delegation.  At that time India allowed Indian citizens only $24 dollars foreign currency.  He needed the money, at least $100.  At that time there were not many Indians in the USA.  Although he disliked RSS, he knew Chaman Lalji and he contacted him and asked whether Chaman Lalji could arrange $100 in New York which he promised to reimburse in Rupees on his return back to India, Chaman Lalji contacted me over the phone and I contacted Maheshji.  Even though at that time, $100 was a big amount, especially for new Indian immigrants, he immediately went to New York City and gave $00 to Mr. Jain.  Jain was astounded and stopped being against Sangh and VHP.

In June 1975, when Mrs. Gandhi declared Emergency in India, Maheshbhai called me and encouraged me to do something about it.  Soon after that I got a call from Shri Kumar Poddar, a businessman based in Lansing, Michigan.  We both talked about doing something in the USA in opposition to the murder of democracy in India.  Then he called Anand Kumar, a student in New York, who later he became a Professor at JNU in Delhi.  We decided to form an organization and named it Indians for Democracy.  Later Gehaniji from Washington, Ravi Batra and Dr. Mukund Modi from New York joined IFD.  Sometime in July or August, there was a VHP Executive Committee, I believe, in Connecticut.  Maheshji was there.  I briefed him and others about IFD.  As it was a political activity, with Maheshji’s consent, Gehaniji and I resigned from the VHPA’s Executive Committee. Although Maheshji, being the VHPA’s General Secretary did not join IFD officially, he, Subhash Mehta and Anjleeji actively participated in the IFD’s activities of opposing the Emergency. When Dr. Swamy came to USA, Maheshji and I met him in Boston and decided to form a Friends of India Society International (FISI) chapter in the USA. In 1978, FISI’s international conference was held in New York.  Maheshji was the Convenor, Subhashji was the Chief Organizer and Senator Moynihan was the Chief Guest.

When a number of Sangh Karyakartas were arrested during Emergency, and their families were left without bread earners, Maheshji called me and we discussed the formation of an organization to collect money for their families.  Gehaniji and I formed India Relief Fund (IRF).  At that time, Dr. Vinod Prakash and Dr. Arun Shourie were working as senior economists with the World Bank.  They contacted us to work with us in opposing the Emergency.  Vinodji became very active and he was made the President of the IRF.  After Emergency, we decided to convert IRF to India Development Relief Fund (“IDRF”) which Vinodji is still heading in spite of losing his eyesight.  As usual, Maheshbhai helped the IRF and IDRF to a great extent.

When BJP was separated from the Janata Party, Dr. Mukund Modi formed Overseas Friends of BJP (“OFBJP”).  A few years after his death, there was an intense internal dispute in the BJP.  In order to resolve the differences, Shri V.P. Goyal, BJP’s Treasurer and prabhari to supervise OFBJP, formed a committee under the leadership of Maheshji.  The two other members were Dr. Manohar Shinde and me.  Maheshji was firm and decisive in conducting the procedures of this Committee and finally the dispute was resolved.

In 1999, Ken Cherian, a Christian activist in the USA approached me about a trip to India and visiting together the Christian and Hindu organizations in Delhi, Trivandrum and Chennai.  He also suggested a well-known Christian Babu Stephen to accompany us who had business in Washington, DC and Trivandrum.  He was also running a college in Trivandrum.  I requested Maheshji also to accompany us which he gladly agreed to do.  First, we went to Delhi, then to Trivandrum and Chennai.  In Delhi, we visited a couple of churches and Christian Schools.  We were also fortunate to participate as guests in the BJP’s National Executive Committee Meeting.  At that time, Atalji was the Prime Minister.  In Trivandrum, we met the heads of three sects of Christians.  We also met a long time Pracharak and Scholar Parmeshwaranji.  In Trivandrum, we stayed at Babu’s house where he had a painting of Lord Krishna and Arjuna sitting on a Chariot.  As we had some time, Maheshji and I went to Kanya Kumari for a day and visited Vivekanand Memorial Temple.  I had helped Ek Nath Ranadeji in the planning of this Memorial.

First, in Kerala, we met the head of one Christian Sect, He was wearing Saffron color Kurta and Dhoti with long hair and a beard and looked like a Hindu Saint.  He stated, “We believe in Sanatan Dharma like you do.  The only difference is that we worship Jesus Christ and you worship Rama, Krishna, etc.”  A number of Kerala Christians have two names, biblical names outside their homes and Hindu names in their homes.  Most of them do not like foreign missionaries and do not take orders from Pope or any foreign authority.  A number of them opt for cremation.

At a very famous church In New Delhi, the Archbishop arranged a lunch at which we four from the USA, then the General Secretary of RSS, Sudarshanji, President of VHP, Ashok Singhalji, President of BJP Kushbhau Thakre, General Secretary of BJP Narendra Modi were also present.  We had a very cordial and frank discussion.  The news of the dialogue between RSS and Christian Churches appeared on the front page of the Asian Age, an Indian daily newspaper. Later we all visited Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Advaniji at his office.

Everyone knows the work done by Maheshji and Anjleeji.  I should also mention about his brother Subhash Mehta and Raginiji.  Subhashji was a quiet worker and worked with Maheshji in the VHPA.  Above I mentioned his role in the 1978 FISI’s International Conference in New York in which Subhashji was very active.  Like Sita, Raginiji accompanied Maheshji in most of his activities.  She never complained, tried to stop or distract Maheshji from any activity.  Once she said smilingly, “Jitendraji, we have been married for decades and only one time we went to see a movie together.”  What a sacrifice in this modern time!!

Not only, Maheshji inspired his family members, he inspired a large number of Hindus around the world and encouraged them to work for Hindus and the society.  I personally feel fortunate that I had the honor of knowing and working with Maheshji and his family.  My Pranam to a Great Soul.