There were very few immigrants from India in USA before 1965. Immigration and Nationality act of 1965 abolished the national origin formula. The act removed the de facto discrimination against the Asians. As a result of this act, immigration from India gradually started increasing. According to official 2020 census, 2.7 million Indian immigrants resided in USA. However, that number was merely 51,000 in 1970.
In 1970 most of the Indian immigrants were preoccupied in settling their family in this new adopted land and focusing on the career development. Dr. Mahesh Mehta (Maheshbhai) had also recently emigrated from India. He had two doctorate degrees and a law degree. With that educational qualification, like others, he would have been a prosperous renowned scientist in USA. But the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS) samskars, imbibed in him right from the childhood, did not allow him to do that. He channelized his energies for Sanatan Dharma. He had very clear understanding of what Hindu values and Sanatan Dharma can offer for the peace and wellbeing of the world. Even in those early days of Indian immigrant settlement, he had started worrying about the future generations of Indian immigrants. How would they grow up in dual culture? What will be their identity? How should the religious and spiritual needs of the future generation be addressed? With all these concerns, and a clear vision, and earlier good leadership training from RSS, he founded Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) in 1970. The vision of VHPA was to build a dynamic, vibrant Hindu society inspired by the eternal value of Dharma, and the lofty ideals of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam: Meaning the entire cosmos is one family.
A great Organizer and a Superb Mentor
Maheshbhai had many great qualities to run a religious-cultural organization like VHPA. He was a great organizer, a superb mentor, a visionary, and an admired leader. He was a unique communicator. He had great capacity to patiently listen to others, understand the feelings and intensions of the people, and then gradually divert them towards Dharma. That made people comfortable to work with him. These skills made him a superb mentor. He was instrumental in inspiring countless persons- old and young- for the Hindu cause and selfless work for Sanatan Dharma. VHPA started out with a few volunteers, but gradually grew into a big national organization in USA. I consider myself fortunate to be part of VHAP from the start and working with Maheshbhai and many other dedicated and committed volunteers. In couple of decades, VHPA had over thirty chapters spread in major metropolitan areas of USA, mainly where Indian immigrant populations was dense.
Some epoch-making programs in Hindu movement
Under the guidance of Maheshbhai, VHPA took up many programs to cater the needs of Hindus in America. Bal Vihars, Hindu Youth Camps, Hindu Youth Conferences, Dharma Samsads, Religious conferences, tour of religious and spiritual leaders, are some to list.
One of the first big events was a Hindu Conference in Madison square garden in New York, in 1984. Over five thousand Hindus for the first time gathered in USA. Representatives from many countries of Europe and Asia had participated. This was a first big event of Hindus in USA and inspired many Hindus around the world outside India to take similar initiatives. Many countries in Europe later on organized similar events. It raised the confidence in VHPA volunteers to dream and organize big programs in the western world.
Another big event was in 1993. As part of the centenary celebration of Swami Vivekanand’s advent in America, VHPA celebrated Global Hindu Conference in Washington DC in Capitol Center (the place does not exist anymore). Over 10,000 Hindus from over sixty-five countries participated in the event. Renowned speakers from USA, India and Europe addressed the conference on multiple subjects affecting Hindus, and about Hindu values. The Babri structure demolition in December 1992 had happened only a few months before the program. The subsequent communal riots in India had also affected Indian diaspora around the world. The government of India also created hurdles for this big Hindu program. Nevertheless, the program was accomplished amongst the most adverse conditions. VHPA volunteers had good training in working and achieving the goal in most adverse conditions.
In 2000, a Millennium Peace summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at United Nations Organization (UNO) was facilitated by VHPA. 108 Dharma gurus and spiritual leaders from Bharat were invited to participate in this all-religions international conference. This was one of the biggest participations of Hindu religious leaders at UNO. Hosting 108 Dharma gurus in a prestigious World of Astoria hotel near UNO was a major undertaking that VHPA had accomplished successfully. This program raised the confidence of Hindus in Bharat and around the world, to assert for major and rightful participation at international forums.
Many Organizations founded
To accomplish the VHPA vision to build a dynamic vibrant Hindu Society in America, Maheshbhai had founded or was an inspiration in starting many organizations.
- Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA)
VHPA has been functioning for over 50 years serving the needs of Hindus in America in Prachar (Hindu awareness), Seva (Service and Relief work during calamities), Samskar (imbibe Hindu values), Sampark (Networking and outreach). www.Vhp-america.org
- Indians for Democracy
An organization established during Indian emergency in 1975 that created a climate in USA against emergency and reestablishment of Democracy in India. Many experts have acknowledged that this movement had contributed to revocation of emergency.
- Hindu Student Council (HSC)
Along with the goal of networking Hindu students across American Universities, this organization provided opportunities to learn about Hindu heritage and culture. www.hindustudentcouncil.org
- Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of America
This organization raised funds for one teacher school (Ekal Vidyalaya) operated in remote vanvasi areas of Bharat. It aimed at holistic development of villages through empowerment with basic education, digital literacy, and skill development. It had surpassed the goal of running 100,000 rural village schools before the deadline of 2022. www.ekal.org
- Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP)
OFBJP was formed to channelize enthusiasm and energy of the section of Indian Diaspora sympathetic to Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). It also works towards projecting positive and correct image of India and its people in USA. www.ofbjp.org
- Hindu University of America
Hindu University was established to provide students with unique academic environment to explore the knowledge system rooted in Vedic thoughts. www.hua.org
- Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV)
GIBV aimed at networking volunteers from around the world for organic development of villages in Bharat in education, energy, skills, entrepreneurship, health and environment. www.gibv.org
A True Instrument (निमित्त) for the Divine work
Working with Maheshbhai for over 45 years in VHPA, we had the fortune of meeting many siddha Sadgurus and Swamis. One of the most revered amongst the VHPA workers was Swami Tilak. In one of the talks to the governing council of VHPA, He had stated, “You Indian immigrants might think that you have come here in USA to earn dollars. However, the divine has some different plan. As in spring the pollens rise up in wind, fly away in faraway places, and germinate into big trees, the Indian immigrants will uplift the Hindu values and Sanatan Dharma in the western world.”
Many institutions started under the leadership of Maheshbhai over four decades, indeed have revived and uplifted the Hindu values and Sanatan Dharma in the western world. Maheshbhai was a chosen leader by the Divine to facilitate this divine work. And for that Maheshbhai was blessed with all great qualities in one person – leadership, organizational acumen, oratory, mentorship, communication skills, and humility. The Indian diaspora will remember for a long time the lifelong work that Maheshbhai did for Hindu values, Sanatan Dharma, and Bharat. And the Divine must also be showering blessings on this soul for an excellent part he played during this birth.
Shri Jyotish Parekh, one of the senior most volunteers of VHPA. He served as a national treasurer and then as the President of VHPA.