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Yuck! Broccoli for Mr Bush

Washington, March 4: Even as US President George W. Bush left India satisfied that he had never been received so grandly in any other world capital, few of his hosts or handlers on the Indian side seemed to have noticed that Bush skipped part of his meal at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet on Thursday night.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had okayed broccoli-almond soup as the first course for his state banquet in honour of his American counterpart.

But the US ambassador to India, David Mulford, who is supposedly close to the President, either did not know that Bush hates broccoli or did not bother to inform Rashtrapati Bhavan of the food preferences of his boss.

According to friends of the Bush family here, dislike of broccoli runs in America’s current ruling dynasty.

The present President’s father, who was the 41st US head of state, hates it even more: to the point that there is still speculation that one reason why he vomited into the lap of then Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa during a state banquet in Tokyo in 1992 was because he spotted broccoli on the menu.

Actually, Indian protocol officials had left no stone unturned to ensure that there were no glitches during the Bush visit.

When Bill Clinton visited India six years ago, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave him a gift, which left many Americans in the presidential entourage with red faces.

The gift was the works of American poet Walt Whitman: no one told Vajpayee that Clinton had given the same gift to Monica Lewinsky three years earlier and was the subject of America’s popular late night comedians for months when the Lewinsky scandal nearly brought down America’s 42nd President.

To add to that, President K.R. Narayanan did the unthinkable: he obliquely criticised the US during his toast to Clinton at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet he hosted on March 21, 2000.

Ambassadors have lost their jobs for minor mistakes during state visits by their bosses. But Mulford need not worry that broccoli in Bush’s soup will cost him his job in Chanakyapuri because the US President was otherwise thrilled with the arrangements made for him and the reception he got in New Delhi.

Besides, Bush may never know of another faux pas that Mulford made during the presidential trip. The US ambassador issued invitations for Bush’s address at Purana Qila.

When the controversy over hosting the Purana Qila function -- which has been reported in these columns -- boiled over, Mulford was forced to withdraw these invitations and fresh invitations were issued in the names of India’s three business chambers.

But South Block dealt with the incident with diplomatic finesse: they did not put down Mulford, but took the line that these were additional invitations for “reasons of security”.

If the President was happy with his visit, there was at least one man in his inner circle who was squirming at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet.

He was Andrew H. Card, Jr., assistant to the President and Bush’s chief of staff, the equivalent in India of the powerful principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

At Indian state banquets, guests from both sides are formally announced through a loudspeaker when they are introduced to the host and the chief guest.

When Card’s turn came, he was introduced by Rashtrapati Bhavan officials as “Andrew H. Card, junior assistant and chief of staff” to guffaws from his colleagues in the White House.

George W. Bush would not have been George W. Bush if he had left India without uttering at least one “Bushism”.

He lived up to his habit in Hyderabad, a few hours before going to Islamabad via New Delhi.

Addressing young entrepreneurs at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, Bush said: “You know, I said something really interesting, I thought interesting -- otherwise, I wouldn’t have said it -- the other day in a speech I gave in Washington.”

Not as good as some of his earlier gems ' “we are concerned about AIDS inside our White House: make no mistake about it” -- but good enough to keep his reputation alive.

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