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US peep gets Gaur’s goat

Bhopal, Oct. 4: What does Babulal Gaur have in common with George Fernandes, Rahul Gandhi and Suniel Shetty' All of them have had a taste of US security, post-9/11.

The Madhya Pradesh chief minister was body-searched at Chicago airport while on an official trip. “They didn’t even spare my shoes and socks, maine aise darpok log kabhi nahin dekhe (I’ve never seen such a cowardly lot),” fumed Gaur, 76, on return. “If they see a Muslim, they panic more.”

Revealing his “Fernandes treatment” ' the former defence minister was body-searched twice, in 2002 and 2003 ' Gaur said the security personnel even peeped inside his ears. “I told them I’m not carrying anything there, but it fell on deaf ears.”

Foreign investment proposals worth Rs 10,000 crore that the BJP chief minister says he has brought back have not dulled the humiliation.

Red-faced and angry, the former labour union leader said there was a simple way of getting even. “We should have a similar security drill for them here,” he said, adding he would take up the matter at the “appropriate forum”.

Would Rahul Gandhi agree' He had spent anxious moments when security staff stopped him at Boston airport after 9/11. Pleas that he was a former Prime Minister’s son made little impact. But Rahul got a prompt apology when the Indian embassy took up the matter with the US within minutes of being informed.

Actor Suniel Shetty had a much worse time. He was in a Chicago hotel when the planes crashed into the twin towers on September 11, 2001. A star of hits like Border and Dus, Shetty was dragged out of his room and asked to prove his identity. He spent 16 hours in confinement and had to pull a lot of strings to be let off.

Gaur was part of a team led by Union commerce minister Kamal Nath to the US and Britain to woo business.

The chief minister said he had got investment offers of Rs 10,000 crore for Madhya Pradesh ' Rs 5,000 crore in power, Rs 3,000 crore in engineering and auto-parts manufacturing, Rs 1,000 crore in hospitality, Rs 500 crore in steel, Rs 400 crore in chemicals and about Rs 100 crore in technical education and employment.

“Investors felt that among states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kerala, where possibilities of new industries coming up were retarded due to lack of good land and high prices, Madhya Pradesh offered better facilities.”

But the Opposition wasn’t listening, tut-tutting instead about his ordeal at the airport. “The treatment meted out to him is an insult to Madhya Pradesh,” said leader of the Opposition Jamuna Devi.

Other Congress leaders echoed her. Satyadev Katare, an MLA, said Gaur had lowered the prestige of the state while Rajiv Singh, secretary of the state unit, declared: “Henceforth our chief minister should be given the title of Fernandes the Second.”

The BJP ' whose government in Delhi had brushed under the carpet Fernandes’s frisking till former US official Strobe Talbott’s book spilled the beans last year ' was silent.

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