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Putin’s day out in India, not a day more

New Delhi, Dec. 23: The turquoise waters off Goa just missed an august guest from the land where the Don flows.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to land in Delhi a little after midnight, but if Indians were expecting him to linger awhile and taste their famed hospitality, they would be disappointed.

Before Monday ends, the visitor from Moscow will have wrapped up his “official” or “working” trip. After all, the democratically elected Russian head of state doesn’t like his trips to India — or for that matter, anywhere — to be termed “state visits”. His visits are all business.

So, no walking around Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat, or receiving a 21-gun salute and a guard of honour at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Putin would, of course, meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chief Sonia Gandhi and leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj. “Putin’s visits are all work and his officials let it be known to us,” said an official source.

Not that the Indians didn’t try. They proposed that Putin, who loves scuba diving, spend a couple of days in Goa. The proposal was rejected.

Putin followed a tight schedule during every one of his five previous visits, except the first in October 2000 when he was barely months into his presidency. First Lady Lyudmila had then accompanied him. The couple even visited the Taj Mahal. In all subsequent visits — in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2010, as Prime Minister — he has not spent beyond 24 to 36 hours on Indian soil.

It’s not that Putin reserves such businesslike behaviour only for India. He isn’t any different when travelling to other countries, including even influential ones like Germany and France.

Sources say Putin — an expert judoka who has cultivated a macho image, flying military jets and driving a Formula I car — wants to be seen as the President of a superpower.

Earlier this year, Putin had declined to attend the G8 summit in the US on the ground that he was busy constituting his new cabinet. He sent Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, instead.

Putin’s official website shows he has seldom spent more than a day in a foreign country. Even British Prime Minister David Cameroon’s invite to attend the opening ceremony of the London Olympics couldn’t make Putin stay in London beyond a day.

In end-June, he covered Palestine, Israel and Jordan in two days. Earlier that month, Putin visited both Germany and France on June 1.