| Purana Qila
Washington, Feb. 25: A controversial nuclear deal is not the only issue which is vexing Indian and American officials negotiating the nitty-gritty of US President George W. Bush’s visit to India.
US ambassador David Mulford’s dogged insistence on hosting Bush’s grand public address at Purana Qila has prevented both sides from announcing the US President’s full itinerary in India.
America’s national security adviser Steve Hadley yesterday briefed the media here on Bush’s trip to India and Pakistan, but conveniently left out details of his public address from the capital’s Purana Qila, although it is to be the grand finale of his 60-hour stay in India.
Hadley also omitted any mention of his President’s day trip of Hyderabad: the Deccan city is categorised by security officials here as a Muslim stronghold and is, therefore, the subject of heightened threat assessments.
Mulford, who is now persona non grata in practice to much of the Indian political leadership and the civil service, is viewed here as having exhausted his utility as America’s ambassador in Delhi.
He realises that his future in Chanakyapuri depends entirely on pleasing Bush during his stay in India.
The ambassador has calculated that if the spectacular show that is planned for Bush next Friday evening on the majestic ramparts of Purana Qila is presented to the White House as his show in its entirety, he has a chance of avoiding a recall to Washington that is very much on the cards, according to sources here.
But the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has come in the way.
The ASI is in charge of Purana Qila and will not hand over the heritage site to a foreign government under an arrangement sought by Mulford in which the US Marines and American Secret Service will virtually take over the site.
During the weekend, negotiations were still going on over the protocol for the Friday evening function although Indian and US officials are agreed that it should, indeed, take place at Purana Qila.
Mulford insists that invitations for that function should be issued in his name and solely in his name.
Negotiators in New Delhi said they were exploring the possibility of bringing in India’s apex business organisations like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry into the list of hosts as a way out of the dispute.
Barring the Purana Qila function and the trip to Hyderabad, Hadley gave full details of what Bush would do in India: the formal welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan, wreath-laying at Rajghat, a meeting with members of the Indo-US CEO Forum set up in July last year, meetings with the Congress president and the leader of the Opposition in Parliament, an interaction with young entrepreneurs and so on.