The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Meet Jekyll & Hyde
- Hidden and public lives of N-law author

Washington, Aug. 26: If those who constitute any mechanism to study Hyde Act as a possible compromise between the Congress and the Left in their nuclear stand-off were to visit Washington on a fact-finding mission -- as Indian panels are fond of doing -- they will have a hard time locating the author of the legislation.

Henry Hyde, who shepherded the passage of the “Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006" nearly nine months ago is no longer in America’s public life.

The arch-conservative member of the US House of Representatives for 32 years who has created deep fissures in current Indian politics has himself retired and did not contest elections which brought a new US Congress into office this January.

It is not known if the retired US Congressman has been following the contretemps in New Delhi over the law named after him, but if Hyde were to do so, he would marvel at the strange ironies that make milestones in politics.

Hyde would never have been cast into the centre-stage of Indian politics if it were not for some curious twists and turns in American politics during the Clinton years that asserted the rise of conservatism.

The Congressman’s forte was law and he has been a member of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee from the time he was elected to Congress, later becoming the panel’s assertive chairman.

But then came along Newt Gingrich, the conservative Speaker of the House and his infamous “Contract with America” as an answer to Clinton’s liberalism.

The Gingrich revolution put term limits on chairmanships of House Committees: Hyde was forced to move from the Judiciary panel to chair the Committee on International Relations.

If fate had not brought about this change, it is highly unlikely that Prakash Karat or A.B. Bardhan may ever have heard of Hyde.

Till then, the only significant legislation that bore Hyde name was an anti-abortion law which prohibits the use of any US federal government money for abortion services.

The official website which Hyde used to maintain as a Congressman did not list any major foreign policy achievement during his entire 32 years as a member of America’s primary legislative chamber: least of all the legislation that paved the way for ending India’s long nuclear winter.

On the contrary, protecting the lives of the unborn, improving the lives of the elderly, strengthening education and improving infrastructure in his home state of Illinois were prominently featured as his life-time achievements.

Although Karat and Bardhan may otherwise never have come across Hyde’s name, the lasting memory of this now-retired Representative for most Americans is his duplicitous role as the man who spearheaded the successful impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Clinton was later acquitted by the Senate and completed his full term in office.

Hyde was exposed as a hypocrite during the impeachment and his till-then rock solid conservative credentials took a severe pounding after Salon, the Internet magazine, published an investigative story about Clinton’s chief impaler having been an adulterer himself.

The story detailed a five-year affair which Hyde carried on with a married woman, Cherie Snodgrass, which ended after the woman’s husband confronted Hyde’s wife.

Hyde argued that “the statute of limitations has long since passed on my youthful indiscretions”, but his moral shine was gone.

Like many Congressmen whose names become attached to US legislation, Hyde was the Bush administration’s choice to pilot the nuclear bill on India that it was determined make into law.

Hyde did a good job at the behest of the White House making compromises that would see it pass in the Congress, for which he is now being assailed by opponents of the law both here and in India.

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