President George Herbert Walker Bush, who passed away Nov. 30 at the age of 94, held a special place in the hearts of Indian Americans. Bush sought two terms at the White House – first in 1989, and again in 1992, when he lost to President Bill Clinton – alongside the Indian American community, which was beginning to seek its place at the table of national politics.
During his term in office, the Bush administration set the stage for thawing the frosty U.S.-India relationship, traversing through numerous trade and commerce issues. In 1989, Bush sent his national security advisor Robert Gates to India and Pakistan to defuse a situation that could have led to a nuclear war between the two countries.
India-West publisher Ramesh Murarka met Bush in 1992; he recalls the meeting in a brief essay below, punctuated by his respect and awe for the 41st president of the U.S.
It was just two weeks before the crucial 1992 national election. President George H.W. Bush was seeking his second term to the highest office in the U.S.
Dr. Zach Zachariah, a prominent Indian American cardiologist and staunch supporter of Bush, had organized an exclusive fundraiser at his residence in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The guest list was limited and featured several elite members of the community, including the illustrious white-bearded Colonel Harland David Sanders who founded the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain. Only a few members of the Indian media had been invited. I, as publisher of India-West, was fortunate to have been included as one of them.
Before Bush took the mike to address the elite gathering, he spent almost 30 minutes mingling with the crowd and chatting with nearly every one of the attendees. I had carefully packed a very nice and colorful silk tie to present to him.
As he walked up towards me, I handed him the gift and suggested that he wear it for his press conference, which was scheduled for later that day.
And then came the big surprise! Mr. Bush stretched out his hand to give me a warm handshake, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Thank you, Ramesh. Yes, I will wear the tie. It might even prove lucky!”
Since I had not yet told him my name, I quickly realized that he had taken the trouble to read my name tag on my shoulder and addressed me by my first name. This gesture, coming from the most powerful man on the planet, not only left me in awe, but also with a great deal of respect for the individual.
Unfortunately for him, he went on to lose the election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
On a side note, I did stumble into the Zachariah garage by mistake, only to be met with a burly security officer. Yes, it is true: there is indeed a command center which is set up wherever the president travels. And, yes, I did get a fleeting glimpse of the legendary red telephone. It is not a myth!