| Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) looks on as George W. Bush puts his arm around Raghubir Goyal. (AFP)
Washington, July 8: A maverick Indian journalist member of the White House Press Corps has disrupted carefully-laid plans by the US and Canada to create a memento of efforts to heal their recent bilateral wounds.
The bizarre incident unfolded in the East Room of the White House on the 60th birthday of US President George W. Bush, as he and Canada’s recently elected Conservative, pro-Bush Prime Minister came together to shake hands as a symbol of a new rapprochement between the two ‘distant’ neighbours.
That momentous handshake at the conclusion of a joint press conference was, however, abruptly ended when the Indian reporter, Raghubir Goyal, shouted a “happy birthday” wish for the President.
Bush, who is more at home among sychophants and cheerleaders than with anyone of any substance, immediately dropped Stephen Harper’s outstretched hand and turned to Goyal, who brings out two obscure publications here called India Globe and Asia Today. “Thank you very much. Yes,” beamed Bush.
Goyal wouldn’t let go of the opportunity. “It is also my birthday,” he told Bush, who was obviously happy to turn to something more pleasant than problems between his country and Canada or the defiance of North Korea’s missile-lobbing pain-in-his-neck, communist dictator Kim Il Sung.
Bush: Today’s your birthday, too'
Goyal: Yes, sir.
Bush: It is' Come on up. Come up, come up, come up.
And in a flash, Goyal was up at the presidential lectern, Bush’s arm around his shoulder for the photo opportunity of his lifetime.
Bush: Come on. Get up here. Anybody else have their birthday today'
Richard Benedetto of USA Today was born on July 6. So was the state department’s sound technician, Todd Mizis. They soon joined birthday boys Bush and Goyal.
According to Dana Milbank, White House correspondent of The Washington Post, who was witness to the entire proceedings, “a befuddled” Canadian Prime Minister exclaimed “another one!” as Mizis joined Bush at the lectern.
Left out entirely from a scene where he was to have been the cynosure of TV and still cameras, Harper mumbled: “If we start to get any more, I’m going to start to question it.”
But Bush couldn’t care less. He was happy in his little impromptu birthday celebration. “It’s your birthday' Yes, sure. It is your birthday' Come on,” he asked each of those who had joined him for a picture together.
“It is amazing. Everybody’s birthday,” Bush thought aloud, according to a transcript of the conversations put out by the White House.
“Dear Richard”, he said of Richard Benedetto and announced, “he just told me he is 30 years old. Happy birthday. Happy birthday”.
Shortly afterwards, Harper headed back to Ottawa, only to be warned by Opposition Liberal Party leader Bill Graham not to get too chummy with Bush.
Meanwhile, the incident is another dubious distinction for Goyal, who is known in the mainstream US media as “Goyal the foil” because the White House spokesman turns to him inviting some inane question about South Asia when the going gets tough.
One US website featuring him writes: “When Goyal starts speaking, the press corps knows, their real work is over. The rest of the briefing is going to just be play.”
White House veterans recall that when Bill Clinton was avoiding the press during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Goyal one day shouted after the President as he was briefly within earshot of the media: “Mr President, Mr President, you are doing a fine job.”
That was more than what many of his trusted aides would have told him at that stage.