| Isreal-based NRI Reena Pushkarna, popularly known as curry queen, boards a flight on her way back to Tel Aviv on wednesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Sept. 10: A power lunch for Ariel Sharon organised by Indian business turned into a diplomatic nightmare for hosts and guests alike as a series of spats broke out.
The acrimony between officials from the two countries reached such a level that both Sharon and Indian finance minister Jaswant Singh were forced to say that the bureaucracies of the two nations could probably tie for the title of the world’s most obstructionist organisation.
“The Indian bureaucracy is certainly a medallist in obstructing (better relations) and the Israeli bureaucracy a joint winner,” Singh said with a wry smile. A grim Sharon who heard out Singh’s aside promptly agreed.
The venue of the lunch organised by two rival chambers, Ficci and CII, was taken over by officers from Israel’s secret service some three hours before the guests arrived.
Israeli security brushed aside Indian police’s top brass deputed to guard the venue, sparking the first round of the spat.
The result: guests at the luncheon, who included automobile tycoon Anand Mahindra and the Tata group’s Feroze Vandrewala, had to pass through a series of rival friskings, some of it mildly rough. In one, shoes were also checked by an Israeli guard.
Several businessmen were heard muttering in irritation after they were passed through to the venue at Taj Mahal hotel. A police cordon forced them to alight a kilometre away from the hotel, switch to “sanitised” cars which took them to the first round of frisking at the entrance and then on to an X-ray test on the 11th floor.
Two more rounds of frisking followed as they climbed the stairs to the 12th-floor restaurant Long Champs where Sharon was to be feted.
A guest who had been cleared for entry by a top lady police officer was stopped brusquely by an Israeli officer standing next to her, prompting a joint commissioner of the capital’s police force to threaten the man with expulsion from the hotel if he “continued to challenge clearances given by our senior officers”.
Both sides threw dark looks at each other. The spats continued as guests passed through rival clearance cells. At one stage, the lady officer barked at a Mossad operative: “This is our country you know, we know more about these guests than you do.”
Obviously, the Israelis did not agree. Soon after, Israeli business guests made an entry, with far fewer hassles. Most of them were the top brass of some of Israel’s biggest security corporations, including Israel Aircraft Industries which is involved in the Phalcon deal with India.
Indian photojournalists who had taken position inside the dinner hall to click Sharon were asked to move out, forcing an embarrassing protest.
Requests for understanding from the hosts saw the photojournalists pacified, but suddenly the director-general of Sharon’s office, Avigdor Itzchaky, marched to the podium and “demand(ed) the press be evacuated”.
The statement led to a duel with the diplomatic editor of a newspaper, forcing the shocked Indian hosts to rush to the Israeli official’s side and urge moderation. Itzchaky, showing deft diplomatic skills, quickly amended his statement: “I meant evacuate the passage.”