|Singh and Kissinger
Washington, July 17: By the standards set by President George W. Bush, she is not “with us” and, therefore, is “against us”. He, on the other hand, has committed the grave “sin” of casting aspersions and using foul language against the second most important member in the lineage of India’s ruling dynasty.
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Washington on a three-day state visit, Indian and American officials were quietly trying to reconcile a major problem of etiquette on their respective sides.
Amrit Singh, the Prime Minister’s New York-based daughter, is expected to join her father as part of the “VVIP family” during the current Indian state visit to Washington. There is nothing unusual about this: except that Amrit is a perennial thorn on the sides of Bush and his defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the strongest advocates in the present US administration for closer ties with India.
Amrit is an attorney with the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
She is a stormy petrel of civil rights in America and has taken on the Pentagon for abusing prisoners in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison as well as the blackhole US detention camps in Guantanamo, Cuba, where suspected al Qaida terrorists are imprisoned.
Amrit has also taken on American airlines for allegedly discriminating against passengers with brown skin in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More recently, she got involved in allegations against US soldiers that they knowingly desecrated the Quran.
Bush’s disdain for civil liberties is well-known although he preaches democracy abroad, selectively applying his standards of freedom to countries which do not allow US bases or troops on its territory.
He has also insisted since he made a statement to that effect on November 6, 2001, that “you are either with us or against us in the fight against terror”. By that yardstick, Amrit is clearly against Bush.
An official travelling with the Prime Minister told The Telegraph that Indian officials had made arrangements for Amrit and her husband to stay in Blair House, the presidential guest house adjacent to the White House, where Manmohan Singh is staying.
As of now, she is also expected to go to the White House on Monday night, when she will be formally introduced to Bush and the First Lady, who are hosting a state dinner for the Singhs.
At the time of writing, it was not certain whether Amrit, who is viewed by thousands of Americans as a formidable and high profile adversary of the Bush administration, will accept official US hospitality and stay at Blair House.
Amrit has consistently refused to speak with reporters about her relationship with the Prime Minister, but is readily accessible to the media on cases she is pursuing against the US government or corporations.
Those in New York who know her ' and Indian government officials ' speak of her as the finest prime ministerial offspring India ever had because she has no airs, she does not throw her weight and she never speaks about her family connections.
But she is an issue for supporters of the Bush administration, judging by Internet blogs about her and discussions in right-wing circles about the cases she is pursuing.
The Americans too are facing difficulties with etiquette during the Prime Minister’s visit. Their dilemma is whether to have former secretary of state and Indira Gandhi-baiter Henry Kissinger at various events hosted by the Bush administration in honour of Manmohan Singh.
According to transcripts of a conversation on November 5, 1971, recently released here, Kissinger told then President Richard Nixon about the run up to the war for the creation of Bangladesh: “The Indians are bastards anyway'Those sons-of-bitches, who never have lifted a finger for us, why should we get involved in the morass of East Pakistan'”
He said of Indira Gandhi after her visit here: “While she was a bitch, we got what we wanted too. She will not be able to go home and say that the US didn’t give her a warm reception and therefore in despair she’s got to go to war.”
Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is hosting lunch for the Prime Minister on Monday and it is the tradition in the state department to invite former secretaries of state to such events.
Kissinger is also thick with the Bush White House, which would normally have invited him for the state dinner for the prime minister, especially since the former secretary of state is now one of the staunchest supporters of India in the US.
Indian ambassador Ronen Sen has told the Prime Minister’s office that Kissinger telephoned him a few days ago and profusely apologised for his comments 34 years ago so that there is no awkwardness if Manmohan Singh came face to face with Nixon’s foreign minister.
At a recent dinner in New York hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry, Kissinger went to great lengths to explain his comments to a group of angry Indians.