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Atal solution to diplomat row

Washington, Sept. 26: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has found a way around the dispute between the US state department and the Indian embassy in Washington over the accreditation of B.K. Agnihotri as a diplomat here with the rank of ambassador.

Vajpayee has directed Agnihotri to be part of India’s permanent mission to the UN instead of the embassy in Washington.

Agnihotri, who holds the long-winded title of India’s ambassador-at-large for Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Non-resident Indians (NRI), will now be accredited to the UN in New York.

The change in arrangements for his accreditation is expected to put an end to the long-running controversy surrounding his diplomatic status in the US, in which South Block has been perceived by the political leadership in New Delhi as having been unhelpful to the Prime Minister’s choice of the special envoy.

The babudom in the ministry of external affairs generally resents outsiders and considers diplomatic postings to be the right of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS).

But in standing by Agnihotri and finding an amicable solution to his problem, Vajpayee will earn praise from all those in the country’s diplomatic network who are outside the IFS — including officers from other services like the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), who are sometimes at the receiving end of the IFS control of this network.

The last time a political appointee in India met with stiff resistance from the powers-that-be in South Block, the then Prime Minister threw in the towel and let down his appointee.

Bhabani Sen Gupta, who was appointed as foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, lasted no more than a day or two in office.

The new arrangements for Agnihotri’s accreditation are said to have been discussed in detail by Vajpayee with the special envoy as well as by Indian officials in New York and Washington during the Prime Minister’s stay in the Big Apple this month.

By accrediting Agnihotri to India’s permanent mission to the UN, New Delhi has taken a leaf out of the book of several other missions to the UN.

Many of them have more than one diplomat with the rank of ambassador and they also serve as advisers in specialised areas such as law, environment, health and other similar issues.

Vajpayee’s decision has also spared India of the unpleasant task of having to go back to the state department with a fresh set of reasons for getting Agnihotri accredited in Washington.

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