Clinton touchdown for ties takeoff
Jaswant thorn in Panja bouquet for President
Bukhara dinner in desert Delhi
Open-ended dialogue with Hasina
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 19 
The jinx may have finally been broken with the touchdown of Air Force One on Indian soil after 22 long years. The warmth in the welcome is palpable. But beneath the surface, a tug-of-war has begun.

President Bill Clinton has arrived here with a mission to go down in history as the man who doused the Kashmir flames in a nuclearised sub-continent. India wants friendship with the US, a sympathetic ear for its perception of the Kashmir problem but not a role for the Americans in its dispute with Islamabad.

Nevertheless, it was a friendlier, post-Cold War US President who has come here on a week-long tour of South Asia. The fact that five days will be spent in India is an acknowledgement that India is fast becoming an economic destination for the lone superpower. Clinton, who finally managed to undertake this journey at the end of his presidency, is keen to associate his name with one of the longest simmering disputes in the world over the last five decades. Having played a positive role in West Asia, East Europe and Northern Ireland, Clinton now wants to nudge the two recalcitrant South Asian nuclear twins to the negotiating table � possibly to find a lasting solution to the Kashmir question.

India is willing to grant miles to the Americans on the economic front but not an inch on Kashmir which it essentially views as a bilateral problem where there is no scope for a third party�s presence.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has gone on an overdrive to emphasise that Delhi will not bow to any pressure on issues relating to national security, be it the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the Kashmir tangle.

Indications are that Clinton and his delegation will speak about Kashmir and express concern about the rising temperature in the nuclearised zone. But to soften the sting, the US will lay equal stress on cross-border terrorism � a pet theory of the Indians � to isolate Pakistan. Experts feel attempts will be made by either party to ensure Kashmir and the nuclear issue do not leave a sour note in the newfound bonhomie.

Politically, the most significant part of the visit will be the �vision statement� Clinton and Vajpayee are scheduled to sign on Tuesday. It will chart the road-map the two countries wish to take to broaden their relationship.

�We have our differences on these issues but the maturity of the relationship can live with them,� foreign minister Jaswant Singh said while making it clear that Clinton�s visit here will be �directional� not �destinational�.

Departing from protocol, Jaswant Singh was at the airport to set the trip on course. Around 8.30 pm, Clinton emerged through the aircraft door minutes after the Indian chief-of-protocol Manbeer Singh walked up to him and requested him to descend. Arms linked with daughter Chelsea and mother-in-law Dorothy Rodham, with US ambassador Richard Celeste close on heels, Clinton came slowly down the steps with a smile, waving for the cameras.

Within a few minutes of shaking hands with members of the Indian delegation waiting on the tarmac, Clinton and �his immediate family� members were ushered into the six-door Lincoln limousine which became part of a huge snake of cars which then wended their way towards Maurya Sheraton hotel, where he will spend the night.

Early tomorrow, the President leaves for Dhaka, returning to Delhi in the evening. The official part of his Indian trip begins only on March 21.    

New Delhi, March 19 
Ajit Panja�s worst fears came true when he saw his South Block senior, Jaswant Singh, at Palam this evening.

The outranked minister of state for external affairs had to give way to Singh, who first exchanged pleasantries with Bill Clinton and Chelsea. Only then could Panja hand over the official bouquet to the President.

However, Panja tried to make up by having a few words more with Clinton than his senior. This is how the conversation went.

Panja to the President: �Your excellency, I welcome you on behalf of our Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee and the people of India. (Hands over the flowers) These light yellow-coloured rosebuds dotted with violet-coloured wild flowers, I came to know they are to your liking. Your excellency, I do hope your stay will be pleasant and visit will be successful.

Clinton introduces Panja to daughter Chelsea.

Panja to Chelsea: �I welcome you, young little girl. We have made ready everything for Holi celebrations tomorrow. I hope you will like it.� Chelsea giggled.

But Panja did not have time for everyone on Clinton�s team. Secretary of state Madeleine Albright�s aircraft arrived late and missed Panja. Ambassador to US Naresh Chandra and a joint secretary of the foreign ministry received her.

Hawk-eyed mandarins of South Block were quick to suggest that Panja came back early �probably� because of Singh�s sudden appearance.

But it could not have been a total surprise to Panja. Though it was announced by the foreign office a few days ago that Panja would be at the airport to receive Clinton, the corridors of his ministry were abuzz with speculation that the senior minister might also turn up when the Americans landed.

Some officials in Panja�s ministry had begun subtle lobbying to draw attention to the �established� protocol, which confers on the minister of state the right to receive dignitaries. The Indian counterpart of the visiting leader will host a banquet later.

Officials close to Panja had also circulated papers listing the number of foreign leaders he had received since he became minister five months ago. The list was impressive and flaunted such names as Pope John Paul II and Nigerian President Olusegun Obosanjo.

But Clinton was too big a dignitary for Singh to stay away when Air Force One landed.

Officials pointed out that though it was the minister of state who usually goes to the airport to receive visiting dignitaries, there have been precedents when the Cabinet minister, too, has turned up.

The officials also tried to pre-empt possible criticism that Singh went out of his way to welcome Clinton, especially since the Left had dubbed the government �pro-US�.

The officials argued that in the past this courtesy has been shown a number of times to important leaders from the Soviet Union as well as Russia.    

New Delhi, March 19 
Five satellites hovered over a dark Delhi as President Bill Clinton landed, mapping every movement. They couldn�t have picked up much. For, there was no flagwaving bustle of crowds lining either side of barricaded streets.

Delhi had packed up for the night, for Holi tomorrow.

When the world�s most powerful man cruised from the Palam technical area in a six-door limousine to Maurya Sheraton, no mother held up her chubby child for William Jefferson Clinton to kiss. Security personnel had ensured that.

Along the route from the airport via Dhaula Kuan, American securitymen mumbled into invisible microphones. there were also some who listened � to every word uttered in a range of over 500 metres.

Pots of dahlia and chrysanthemum had been hurriedly placed along the route. If not for the darkness, the President would have seen they had already wilted under the capital�s cruel March sun.

Not so the five-star-fresh garlands with which women in bridal finery, representing different Indian states, waited at Maurya for the mandatory welcome, complete with aarti and tika.

The President then headed for the 16th-floor Chandragupta suite, on the way dropping in shortly at the party hosted by US ambassador Richard Celeste. But he didn�t try the array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian kababs laid out there. Nor did he touch the drinks. The President later had his dinner at Bukhara, as had been planned by the hotel management. When Hillary Clinton visited India, she and daughter Chelsea had eaten at Bukhara, some of whose specialities are dal bukhara, murg malai kabab, sikandari rann, burra kabab and pudina parantha.

This time, though, Chelsea would not touch any of the non-vegetarian food. She turned veg after starting to go to college. For her, master chef Mohd. Rais had hunted out the best spinach in town to make hara kababs.

Tonight will possibly be the only occasion Clinton has dinner at the hotel. On all three days he is spending at the hotel, he will have breakfast, though. Even tomorrow, before leaving for Dhaka. Sources in the hotel said: �Maurya will lay out a grand spread at the Chandragupta suite with citrus juice consisting of grapes and oranges, Clinton�s favourite cereal muesli and specially-baked muffins.� Chef Keschi Nisudan will also bake a Czech chocolate cake shaped like a tree.

At the suite, the President will be looked after by a butler who has come with the team.

All other guests at Maurya have been cleared out to make room for Clinton�s army, with snipers taking position on each floor of the hotel as well as in neighbouring buildings.

Maurya is a no-go area for Indian journalists, too. Only the foreign media are allowed in.

A couple of hours before Clinton�s arrival, some fretting and fuming guests could be seen pacing up and down the pavement outside Maurya, their luggage scattered around.

Other than this group and a handful of those that protested against the visit by burning Clinton�s effigy, Delhi looked its usual dispassionate self. If anything, there were possibly a few creased brows, looking ahead at the traffic chaos Clinton and his entourage might cause in Holi�s hangover.

By then, the flowers that shrivelled up today would have been replaced to show the capital�s smiling face.    

Dhaka, March 19 
President Bill Clinton and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will hold �open-ended� talks tomorrow.

The talks would cover all issues to expand political and economic cooperation. �India and Pakistan have specific issues to discuss, but we will discuss everything to strengthen our friendship and cooperation,� state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury said.

Dhaka and Washington are likely to sign a number of agreements on the energy sector, including one a nuclear power plant.

He said issues like free access of Bangladeshi products to the US market, expansion of trade and commerce, judicious use of natural resources, exemption of debt under PL-480, regularisation of Bangladeshi immigrants in the US and extradition of Bangabandhu�s killers would come for discussion, Chowdhury said.

�We expect that the three killers (of Bangabandhu) would be sent back,� he said.    

Maximum: 33.9�C (normal)
Minimum: 24.8�C (+3)
Relative humidity:
Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 60%
Today: Partly cloudy sky. Slight rise in maximum temperature. Not much change in minimum temperature.
Sunset: 5.43 pm
Sunrise: 5.45 am    

Maintained by Web Development Company