Monday, September 18, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

US Diary
Of PM and Press briefings
From Hari Jaisingh

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 — Why can’t Indian Ministers and officials learn to be more candid and forthright? They always try to be secretive or underplay a fact which is so obvious to any discerning eye?

I am raising this question after having a quick look at the style and approach of the Indian and American spokespersons who briefed the media on what transpired before and after the talks between Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Clinton.

Take, for example, the White House Press briefing by Mr Bruce Reidel, Senior Director, Near and South Asian Affairs and National Security Council, and Mr Rick Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and the Indian team headed by the External Affairs Minister after the release of the joint statement by the two leaders.

Mr Jaswant Singh is generally eloquent and forthcoming. But the Indian media had to heavily bank on the White House brief to properly understand the American position on Pakistan and other related issues, including the signing of the CTBT and Kashmir.

A day earlier after the Prime Minister’s historic speech to the US Congress, Mr Brajesh Mishra landed at the Media Centre set up by the Indian Embassy for briefing. He is the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser. He is supposed to know the mind of the Prime Minister. But his problem is that he is extra cautious as well as extra-secretive even on simple matters.

Take just one example of the cancellation of the joint Press conference by President Clinton and Mr Vajpayee at the White House on Friday.

When asked, Mr Mishra said the Press conference was cancelled because Vice-President Al Gore wanted more time with the Indian Prime Minister after his lunch in the latter’s honour. That meant there was not much time left for a joint Press conference. Though disappointed, Indian mediapersons accepted Mr Mishra’s statement ungrudgingly.

But the truth was out sooner than expected. In its televised news bulletin, the CNN reported that the joint Press conference by the two leaders of the world’s two largest democracies was on the cards but Indian officials wanted to scale down the Prime Minister’s schedule for health reasons and, therefore the joint Press conference was called off!

Well, I would wish to avoid further comment. But take it from me: even in diplomacy a simple, honest and professional approach to men (media included), matters and issues does pay in the long run! This depends on whether the Brajesh Mishras are around or not.


Talking about the Prime Minister’s health, it must be said that he has braved it out despite his knee problem. At the White House colourful welcoming ceremony, he was surely not at his best. He looked pale and weak. But what disappointed a large number of his admirers assembled on the lawns of the White House was his short and insipid speech. It was surely not well drafted by his speech writers. A shorter speech needed extra sharpness both in the style of presentation and ideas and with the play with words. Alas, the Vajpayee spirit was missing in it.

In contrast, President Clinton’s speech was simply superb. It was well researched and well written with lots of personal touches.

Mr Clinton, in fact, carried the day. He gave the impression that he knew his new India and also he even knew Mr Vajpayee as the poet.

Just read the following passage:

“America always has had a great fascination with India, for its rich history, culture, great religions. And increasingly we are fascinated by India when we think in terms of the future.

“We see in India today a rising economic leader, making breathtaking strides in Information Technology; an emerging environmental leader promoting ambitious goals for energy efficiency; a pioneering health leader, recently immunising 140 million children against polio; a leader in our community of democracies, reminding the world that freedom is not a Western value but a universal longing.”

I wish our Prime Minister could get a better set of speech-writers, especially for occasions where he has to officially depend on written texts. Here, too, professionalism can make a difference!


I take this opportunity to reproduce a passage from what President Clinton told Indian parliamentarians during his visit to New Delhi. This passage explains why he is particular about Indo-US partnership:

“I believe that the greatest of India’s many gifts to the world is the example its people have set ‘from Midnight to Millennium’. Think of it: virtually every challenge humanity knows can be found here in India. And every solution to every challenge can be found here as well: confidence in democracy; tolerance for diversity; a willingness to embrace social change. This is why Americans admire India; why we welcome India’s leadership in the region and the world, and why we want to take your partnership to a new level; to advance our common values and interests, and to resolve the differences that still remain....

“India is a leader, a great nation, which by virtue of its size, its achievements, and its examples, has the ability to shape the character of our time.”

Nothing could be more eloquent!


The best compliment to Mr Vajpayee has probably come from Vice-President Al Gore, who is also a Democratic candidate for the US Presidential poll scheduled for November. At a luncheon given in his honour at the White House, he recalled the words of President John Kennedy and remarked:

“Mr Prime Minister, you embody President Kennedy words. You know both poetry and politics, and through your inspired leadership, you are indeed making the world a better place to live.

“As a poet, you have inspired the imagination of your people with eloquence. As Prime Minister you have challenged your people to act on their imagination, to create a shared vision for a united, democratic, prosperous and peaceful India, and then to make that vision a reality. You are truly a leader in both word and deed.”

Incidentally, the poet in Mr Vajpayee came alive when he spoke briefly in Hindi at a reception hosted by Ambassador Naresh Chandra in honour of the American Indian community in the USA on Saturday. It was the Prime Minister’s best performance during his stay for over a week in the USA.

It was a very well-attended gathering. One could see and meet a number of successful Indians from different parts of the country who have actually made all the difference in building a positive image of India here.

Mr Vajpayee was equally in a devastating form when he spoke to the American Indian community in the evening in Hindi.


The presence of President Clinton during the unveiling of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in front of the Indian Embassy building here was a special gesture. This shows how much the US President has begun to care for India and its sensitivities. His special love for Mahatma Gandhi has been reflected in his speeches a number of times.

In this context, it will be, by way of contrast, interesting to recall the observations of Dr Henry Kissinger who is considered one of the greatest US Secretaries of State. A man of knowledge, he was the author of the “tilt” against India.

When he met Chinese leader Mao, he talked to him about Gandhi’s non-violence. He said, “For Gandhi, non-violence was not a philosophic principle.” According to him, Gandhi adopted non-violence because he thought that “the British were too moralistic and sentimental to use violence”.

How unfair! The fact is: to Mahatma Gandhi, ethics was all. Everything came afterwards.

I don’t know whether along with the “tilt” he has corrected his views on Gandhi.


More US visas for Indian job-seekers?

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (UNI) — US President Bill Clinton has given a positive indication that the number of H1B visas, which will benefit a large number of job-seekers from India, will be increased.

Answering a question yesterday by mediapersons at the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Massachusetts avenue in the heart of the city, Mr Clinton said: “Let me say this, the number of H1B visas will be increased in this congress, I believe.”

He said the issue was how much will it be increased and “can we use the occasion of increasing the quotas to get some more funds from the companies that are hiring people for the training of our own people who could also do these jobs”.

Under the American law, the companies hiring people from abroad are required to pay certain money to the government that is used to train the locals in those jobs.

Mr Clinton added: “People are already here who had this training, so there is no question that we are going to increase (the quotas for individual countries).”

The number of H1B visas issued by the US Government annually stands at 150,000 and the American companies have been demanding that it be capped at 200,000.

While the local Indian community has also demanded raising the number, Indian industry and business organisations have been urging the US administration to lift the non-tariff measures against India.

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