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Joshi goes where Jois could not

New Delhi, Aug. 3: The foreign ministry’s red signal to private overseas travel extends not only to Congress chief ministers but also to BJP leaders, though selectively.

Bihar governor Rama Jois’ request to participate in a spiritual conference in the US last week was turned down though human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi made it to the same event.

Joshi was the keynote speaker at the International Dharma Conference, organised by New Jersey-based Indians between July 24 and 28.

A government rule stipulates that ministers and party leaders should get “political clearance” from the foreign ministry to travel abroad.

The rule had kicked up a furore some weeks ago when Congress chief ministers Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan and Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh were made to wait long for South Block to clear their US trips.

Gehlot went ahead, but Singh, who had been denied permission to go to Canada for another meet, did not. Both the Congress leaders had been invited to attend the same spiritual meet in New York.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, who was also invited, decided to stay put but participated through a teleconference.

Unlike the spiritual leader, both Joshi and Jois were keen to travel to the US to participate in the conference.

South Block officials pointed out that neither Joshi nor Jois fulfilled the guideline that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had apparently circulated to check foreign travels by party leaders and senior government officials.

The guideline allowed cabinet ministers, chief ministers and governors — all in the same rank of protocol — to travel abroad if invited by their counterparts in the country or countries they wanted to visit.

The dignitaries could also attend international conferences provided leaders from the host country or other participating countries were of commensurate rank.

Permissions were easily available for bilateral meetings on an important project or crucial trade promotion gatherings.

Though neither Joshi’s nor Jois’ visit fulfilled this guideline, South Block stuck to the rule book only while processing the Bihar governor’s request.

Sources in the foreign ministry said Jois’ case was referred to Pramatesh Rath, the Indian consul-general in New York, for his opinion.

Rath reportedly got back that Jois had no valid reason to travel to New York as no US governor had invited him and he would only be coming to speak at one of the sessions at the conference.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha finally turned down Jois’ request, but played safe while dealing with the human resources development minister’s travel plea. Sinha sent it across to the Prime Minister. Vajpayee, predictably, gave Joshi the permission to go for his US visit.

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