Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America

“Maheshbhai” – An Iconic Pioneer of Hindu Diaspora in US

Tuesday, December 14 was a very auspicious day in the annals of Hindu calendar. It happened to be, not only ‘Gita Jayanti’ but also ‘Mokshada Ekadashi’ – a unique day for divine souls to depart from their earthly existence to sublime with the heavenly divinity. Therefore, it came as no surprise that on such a day, a ‘Karma yogi’ who had inspired, guided and molded countless people in the services of Hindu society, bid his existential ‘farewell.’ At that very moment, a soulmate of a devoted wife, a dotting brother, a truly trusted friend to numerous people, a brilliant scientist, a comforting fatherly figure, a dedicated visionary for the Hindu diaspora, a ‘confidante’ to several political & social powerhouses, a highly regarded educationist, a scholarly writer, a mesmerizing orator, a founder of several prominent community-centric organizations……also departed from us. Baffling as it may sound, they all bore the same exact name – Dr. Maheshbhai Mehta. The reality of this phenomenon was that they were all an embodiment of only one iconic person with multitude of accomplishments. He was one of a kind pioneering master of Hindu diaspora in U.S. and I was blessed to have him as my primary mentor, motivator and ‘muse’ (guiding genius) in whatever I did in socio-cultural-political arenas.

My wife, Neela and I got to know ‘who’ and ‘what’ Maheshbhai was, when we got involved in the planning and execution of “10th International Conference of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)” in New York City in 1983-84. His thoroughness in keeping track of every nitty-gritty of this mega event – attended by thousands of delegates from 80 different countries – was simply breathtaking. As former ‘Pracharak’ (PR-Canvassing volunteer) of RSS, he had amazing memory and was full of love, passion and care for others. He always made his business to know every minute detail of a person he met. After the international conference, when he came across some of my published articles and publicity artwork in the ‘Media,’ he immediately roped me into taking over PR-Exposure-Media-affairs responsibility for VHPA, He fully understood the enormous power of the media and the positive impact it could have if embraced as an ally rather than as an adversary. Taking him as my role model for ‘networking,’ soon I was able to successfully establish strong rapport and cozy relations with the Indian media houses in U.S. He had tremendous confidence in my ability to spread ‘a word’ about an event or a project. He was my biggest cheerleader. With his encouragement, I authored numerous articles and designed publicity material for various historic events and campaigns. This included ‘Hindu Unity Year,’ ‘Dharma Prasaar Yaatra,’ ‘Dharma Samsad,’ ‘Global Vision 2000 Conference’, to name just a few. In whatever Maheshbhai accomplished in his life, his wife ‘Raginibahen’ has played an important role as a confidential counselor in all his engagements.

When ‘Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh,’ ‘Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation-USA’ and ‘Overseas Friends of BJP’ or ‘Hindu Students Council’ (University campus-based organization) evolved out of VHPA in 80’s and 90’s, Maheshbhai ushered my presence in their inner circles so that their activities could get mass exposure. I arranged and coordinated press-conferences, interviews whenever dignitaries from India visited U.S. and penned numerous articles on various topics. He always made sure that I had special access, wherever and wherever necessary, to carry out my tasks. This gave me ample opportunities to get close to numerous awe-inspiring personalities from social-religious-political fields. Because of him, I also came in contact with handful of global titans from the business world. For ‘Dharma Prasaar Yaatra’ in U.S., Dr B.K. Modi (Modi Group of Companies), who was the external President of VHPA at the time, had engaged a very prominent New York Public Relation firm, ‘Ruder Finn’ for nationwide publicity as well as to coach him and Maheshbhai to be media-savvy and TV-friendly speakers. Maheshbhai not only made sure that I was third component of this ‘Team,’ but also, asked the popular American TV-anchorwoman to prepare me on the finer points of a ‘campaign.’ During August 28-31, 2000, a “Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious & Spiritual Leaders” was to take place in New York City at the behest of “United Nations Organization’. At this unprecedented conference, an India delegation comprising, 108 representatives of various religions & spiritual organizations from India were also a major participant block. Maheshbhai and Dr B. K. Modi, noting the global significance of this august assembly appointed me as the ‘spokesperson’ for public relations and media related work to maximize the exposure. For quite a few years, I engaged in all the Parivar organizations. When ‘one-teacher-school’ project of VHPA was floated as “Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation,” an independent, autonomous tax-exempt foundation in U.S., Maheshbhai suggested that I devote more time to it. For my work at Ekal Vidyalaya, he complimented me many a times, for all-out publicity campaigns in the ‘print & TV’ media and for reaching out to various Indian conventions, events & celebrations. From the beginning he was of the opinion that grassroot education was the key to India’s overall progress and development.

He treated everyone fairly and with dignity, irrespective of person’s social, economic or educational status. He was so highly regarded wherever he went that people respected whenever he freely spoke his mind. When the “2nd World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Chicago was being hosted and only 5 months were left, Maheshbhai called me one fine morning. The team that the main organizers had trusted for almost a year for publicity-exposure had dropped ‘the ball’ at the eleventh hour and this global event was going nowhere in attracting the Hindu diaspora. Maheshbhai sensed a debacle, to put it mildly. He asked me to just drop everything I was doing and get involved with a specific strategy to succeed for the next 5 months. I assured him to do my best. To make the long story short, with the collective efforts of various teams that we had assembled, all the slots, including the ones for the donations were completely sold out, a month in advance. It gave me great comfort to know that Maheshbhai had lot more trust in my skills than probably I had in myself.

He loved my writing style and we had discussions on various topics. I wanted to write his brief biography in Q-A format about his active years in U.S. and we had couple of ‘sittings’ too over the phone. But alas, with his recurring health problems, we could not complete even 20% of it. Besides my media work for various organizations, I used to write short stories in ‘Marathi’ from time to time. A couple of them have been a part of two books also. As Maheshbhai was quite familiar with the Marathi language, once I sent him a two-page short story – ‘Rhunanubandh’ (a bond of gratitude). A week later, he called me when I was in the office and said, “Pl excuse me for this call but I had to talk to you this very moment’….’Prakash, you made me literary cry with this moving story. It is so full of emotions on various levels and what is most touching is that this is a true story. My secretary could not understand why I was crying. I narrated your story the best way I could to her and now she is also in tears.” This heartfelt appreciation of anything and everything is what has made Maheshbhai immortal in our hearts.

Shri Prakash Waghmare is a former Member of the Governing Council of VHPA. For may years he has served as media coordinator for VHPA as well as Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation. He has many articles to his credit.