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Castaneda, O’Neill, Clerides and Shikhmuradov
New York, March 3: Go to India and lose your job. In many permanent missions of the 180-plus member countries of the UN, in the popular watering holes here for UN diplomats and among other analysts and practitioners of diplomacy in the Big Apple, this is the new, much-feared superstition.
It may be silly, but it has been fuelled by a succession of mishaps that have hit international figures immediately after visiting India.
First, there was Paul O’Neill. The Bush administration’s treasury secretary visited India in the third week of November, promising to be the forerunner of several others from economic areas of the administration in Washington.
Within a fortnight of that high-profile visit, O’Neill lost his job and has been replaced by John Snow.
Then came Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s foreign minister and a close political ally of President Vicente Fox.
Castaneda, too, visited India in the last week of November.
He returned to Mexico, but could not continue in office very long. Castaneda had actually put off his visit to India several times — and kept his job, the jokes now say.
But he finally took the plunge, flew all the way only to New Delhi and has now been replaced by Ernesto Derbez.
Derbez has an India connection too. He was earlier at the World Bank as director of banking and finance for India, Nepal and Bhutan.
But hopefully, that should not prevent him from holding on to his job. That is, they say, as long as he is not tempted to go to India as foreign minister.
On Saturday, Leszek Miller virtually lost his job.
He is the Prime Minister of Poland, who was in India from February 15 to 18. Well, during the weekend, the coalition headed by him collapsed over differences on new taxes.
Miller is now hanging on to office as head of a minority government, but is unlikely to overcome challenges from an Opposition, which, albeit fractured, has an overall majority.
In this city, where diplomats have a huge institutional memory, they cite many more instances to argue that the “Indian shadow” on foreign leaders is nothing new.
The most startling of these cases is that of Boris Shikhmuradov, who rose steadily from a TASS correspondent in New Delhi in the Soviet days to become Turkmenistan’s foreign minister.
Shikhmuradov, a graduate of the famous Diplomatic Academy of the foreign ministry in Moscow and a fluent Urdu speaker, was adopted by India as a close friend in the post-Soviet era as his star was steadily on the rise in Ashgabat.
He visited India and was a regular on the appointment schedule of Indians who travelled to Ashgabat. Well, Shikhmuradov not only lost his job, but is now in jail, convicted of a plot against Turkmenistan’s President, Saparmurat Niyazov.
Does the superstition work in the reverse' There is only one recent example, so a generalisation would be unfair, say diplomats here.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Cyprus last year and his host, Glafcos Clerides, is no longer President of the divided island.
As talk about an “Indian shadow” on world leaders gains ground, anti-war activists in Britain are bound to hope that Prime Minister Tony Blair would repeat his frequent visits to South Asia which he undertook last year as a way now to bring peace in the Gulf.
Better still, why not persuade the Indian government to invite Saddam Hussein to New Delhi if it leads to a regime change in Baghdad without a war' After all, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan did not go ahead with plans he had made earlier to visit India in February!