Washington, Dec. 17: As US President George W. Bush prepares to sign into law on Monday a bill enabling implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Americans have launched their own, well-coordinated effort to sell the deal to doubting Indians.
The result of that effort is that political lobbying has come to India, thanks to America.
Last week, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, told Indian correspondents here that he had dinner with BJP member of the Lok Sabha, Manvendra Singh, in New Delhi on December 8.
The nuclear deal, opposed by the BJP in its present form, was prominent on the agenda for the working dinner.
What is significant about the December 8 dinner was that it was fixed up immediately after a meeting between Burns and Jaswant Singh, Manvendra’s father, failed to materialise.
The visiting American pointman for the nuclear deal was to have met the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha on December 7: indeed that was to have been the very first meeting on the itinerary of Burns,who reached New Delhi the previous night.
Both Burns and a spokesman for the BJP leadership confirmed that the meeting had to be called off because Jaswant had to leave the capital for family reasons.
Such an unprecedented effort by a foreign country to reach out to India’s extended political leadership is, by no means, confined to officials like Burns.
Robert Blackwill, a lobbyist for India here, has made several trips to New Delhi since the Indo-US nuclear deal became the most important symbol of relations between New Delhi and Washington.
During those visits, Blackwill meet an array of Indian political leaders, including L. K. Advani, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, in an effort to overcome their opposition to the deal.
On the face of it, Blackwill is a former US ambassador to India with powerful connections in the White House and an ardent campaigner for better relations between New Delhi and Washington and is meeting old friends and acquaintances. But the hard fact is that Blackwill now earns his living from lobbying work and is paid to sell the nuclear deal to sceptics.
His visits to India, even if they may have other excuses, represent an American lobbying effort in New Delhi.
Burns denied that he had sought a meeting with leaders of India’s Left parties or that they had refused to see him.
Sources in South Block said Burns did try unsuccessfully for a meeting with Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who is emerging as a referee of sorts between the government and the scientific community on the disputes about the nuclear deal.
Avoiding Burns during his visit to India, Kakodkar, sent R.B. Grover, one of trusted advisers, to a lunch hosted for Burns by foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon.
Grover is director, strategic planning group in the Department of Atomic Energy, and associate director for Technical Coordination and International Relations at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
Blackwill is not alone among former US officials who have hopped on flights to India in recent months to sell the nuclear deal.