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Blackwill talks India, eyes Indians in US

Washington, April 22: The ‘martyrdom’ of Robert Blackwill, ostensibly for the cause of India, is being seen very differently here in Washington — both at the state department and in the public domain.

Washington insiders believe the outgoing US ambassador’s resignation statement —like the persuasive oration by Mark Antony at Julius Caesar’s funeral — is a very clever attempt to endear himself to Indians and the affluent Indian American community, whose support he has been seeking to further his career in the next Bush administration in 2005.

When Blackwill was in the US in January, virtually all his non-official engagements were with Indian Americans. He addressed their community meetings from California in the west to Washington in the east.

According to Blackwill’s own admission then, he even cut short a meeting on Iraq with the all-powerful defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to address a gathering here of Indian Americans.

Insiders who know Blackwill intimately assert that he is very ambitious. But if he is to further those ambitions as President George W. Bush goes for elections in 2004, he cannot remain in New Delhi beyond this year.

Out of sight, goes the old saying, is out of mind.

If Blackwill is to prove his worth to Bush and his inner circle beyond his substantial and valued contribution as an intellectual and a strategic thinker, he will have to expand his role among Republican movers and shakers here.

Nothing is more valuable in American public life than the ability to raise money —either for one’s own rise in US politics or for the larger good of those who are your patrons.

Bill Clinton showed Democrats the way to untapped fund-raising possibilities among Indian Americans when he reached out to their community — and in turn to India.

Insiders here say Blackwill has set his sights on tapping Indian American political funds. His January effort to schedule virtually all of his non-official engagements with Indian Americans was a beginning in this effort.

January, it is now officially acknowledged, was also the time when Blackwill finalised his future plans with his mentors in the White House, specifically Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

According to Blacwill’s well-wishers here who are also part of the Republican grapevine, it is conceivable that the outgoing ambassador may become the national security adviser if Bush is re-elected next year.

Rice, in turn, is being tipped for California governorship in 2006, or less likely, for a Senate seat from the state, which is now a fortress for the Democrats.

If she is to take on Governor Gray Davis, Rice cannot be at the top in the second Bush team as her gruelling campaign will only begin as the next administration takes charge.

Unlike in India, where the media is describing Blackwill as having paid the price for his support for India in a Washington set-up increasingly sympathetic to Islamabad, the US media is taking a very different line.

The Washington Post dismissed the envoy’s resignation in a brief on page 4 but, worse, the paper had virtually nothing nice to say about Blackwill’s tenure in Chanakyapuri.

It referred to Blackwill as “the ambassador — whose managerial style led to an inspector-general’s report that found poor morale at the embassy...”

Reports elsewhere in the American media were not very different in content or style.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher was clearly taken by surprise by some reports in the Indian media suggesting that Blackwill had sacrificed his diplomatic career for the sake of India.

“He put out a statement explaining his reasons (for leaving India)...Those were his reasons. He and secretary (of state Colin) Powell discussed this some months ago,” Boucher said.

“The secretary and the President are quite aware of the plans that ambassador Blackwill was making,” the spokesman added.

“Any speculation that there are policy reasons for this resignation I think is just totally misplaced. No, it’s not true.”

One reporter asked: “Okay. Well, how about if it’s not policy, how about personality'”

Another wanted to know: “Do you want to talk about the inspector-general’s report” about morale at the embassy'

The spokesman did not bite the reporters’ baits.

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