Why did Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh go to Washington? To have a taste of vegetarian cuisine prepared for a White House state dinner? To find out how good a conversationalist the President’s wife Michelle Obama is? After the visit was over Dr Singh told the media: “I shared the table with Michelle Obama. And the conversation I had with her was the most memorable part of the evening.” According to news agencies, Mrs Obama showered praise on India and Dr Singh was quoted as saying the White House dinner was “magnificent” and ” a unique experience”. If over a crore of rupees was spent on the trip to give Dr Singh the experience of a “magnificent” dinner, that money could have been better spent in India.
The Indian Express (November 27) wanted to know what Dr Singh’s visit has done to advance ties with the US. As for the nuclear deal, the failure to push it, said the paper, “might be seen as a sign that Obama is having trouble putting his money where his mouth is”, though the paper noted that the US President “referred unambiguously to India as a nuclear power”. According to the paper, “The best way to look at the visit would be as part of a process that will come to fruition by and by.”
The Times of India warned that “too much emotionalism, whether in the sense of triumphalism or excessive cynicism is not going to pay off”, adding that “the outlook for Indo-US ties going forward is substantive, though it might not be as spectacular and promises decent dividends”. Obviously realising that nothing substantial has been openly noticed, the paper said: “The most important things happen in the background and sometimes quiet, steady consultations and commitments bode better for mutually beneficial ties between the two countries.” Indeed, said the paper, “India must rely only on its resources rather than look to Washington for deliverance but also leverage its ties with Washington to serve its interests”.
Actually-and we have this from the correspondent of The Indian Express (November 26) it would seem that Dr Manmohan Singh in his talks with Obama mentioned the “greater assertiveness from China” and while it was not said in so many words, also showed his displeasure at the suggestion made during the Sino-US talks that China help as an intermediary in resolving the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. Reportedly Obama assured the Prime Minister that the statement issued in Beijing was “not aimed at any third party intervention”. A day earlier The Indian Express seemed to agree with skeptics that the substance of the Prime Minister’s visit “did not really match the pomp and ceremony surrounding the occasion, considering “there were no major agreements” and “Delhi’s lack of political ambition for the visit was quite evident”.
Political analysts had their own comments to make. Thus, K Subrahmanyam, a well-known defence analyst, pointed out: “It will take some time to grasp the full scope of the evolution in the Indo-US partnership that has been achieved as a result of the State visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Washington”. “While China is the present nemesis of the US, India is the future hope for the US,” he said.
A former Indian diplomats MK Bhadrakumar writing in Deccan Herald (December 1) noted cynically that “the Prime Minister returned home empty-handed, except for a few more Rockefeller Fellowships in kitty, for which, too, India is paying in hard currency” and that “the country feels short-changed”. Bhadrakumar wanted to know why India voted against Iran on the nuclear issue at the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. South Africa, Brazil, Turkey and Egypt abstained as even Pakistan-a country perpetually beholden to the US. Why couldn’t have India also abstained? Bhadrakumar said that the Indian explanation that Russia and China voted against Iran, as, of course, did the US, does not hold water. “Since when is it that India began synchronising with Russia and China, two countries which are signatories to NPT and CTBT, both of which India rejects?” Bhadrakumar wanted to know. His interpretation is that India was trying to placate the US. As he put it: “Our Czars are making the country a doormat for America. Simply put, the government has stretched its credibility….the great tragedy is that we don’t insist on reciprocity for favours shown. Why can’t our Czars at least learn from their peers in Russia and China how to extract something in return for all their dhobi work?” Good question.
Mainstream (December 3) recalled what Obama said about how he wanted “to build a future in which India is indispensable”, how “India and the US can strengthen the global economic recovery” and how “as nuclear powers, we can be full partners in preventing the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons”. However, said the leftist journal, “despite the two leaders’ bonhomie and rhetoric, the two sides could not reach an agreement on arrangements and procedures for re-processing US-origin nuclear fuel. “Three days of hectic parley failed to bridge the differences between the two sides…this has come as a dampener, as the PM was keen to conclude the remaining steps of the nuclear deal during the visit.”
The Prime Minister may have spoken softly about Obama trying to involve China in the so-called Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir but the Organiser (November 29) told off the US President in no uncertain terms to mind his own business. Said the weekly: “India does not need either the US or Chinese intervention in its dealing with Pakistan… The US economic downturn is clearly the compulsion for Obama to sing Chinese tune. But India is under no obligation to let either China or the US interfere in its bilateral affairs… The US is a declining power. China is rising”. Writing on the same subject, OP Gupta, another Indian retired diplomat, said the UPA’s weak-kneed foreign policy is taking its toll and the US is taking India “for granted”. What exactly did Dr Manmohan Singh tell Obama in this matter? We only have the Prime Minister’s word.
The media is told what the Prime Minister thinks it needs to be told. It is seldom that the full story is ever revealed at media briefings. Usually the media is taken for a ride. But that is par for the course. And the media has no option but to report what it has been told. Guesswork has no place in reporting. It can only lead to the reporter concerned being blacklisted. Every government has its list of sycophants in the media, who can be trusted to push the government line for what it is worth.