The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Not a word on nuke deal at New York gala

New York, Sept. 24: This was not the way it was meant to be. There was not even a whisper about the Indo-US nuclear deal at the glittering inauguration here yesterday of “India@60”, a multifaceted four-day extravaganza to celebrate the country’s achievements in the western hemisphere.

External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, the lead Congress negotiator with the Left on the nuclear deal, spoke about India’s relations with the US in his inaugural address, but he spoke only about expanding trade with America.

A few months ago, it would have been inconceivable that any event — let alone a high-profile one such as India@60 — that brought together Indians and Americans could take place without major references in praise of the nuclear deal.

It was not the Indians alone who were shying away from talking about the deal yesterday at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, part of a sprawling 16-acre, 12-organisation complex in New York that is at the heart of this city’s intellectual and artistic life.

New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, a kingmaker in American politics who led the Democratic Party’s successful campaign last November to regain control of the US Senate, also did not mention the nuclear deal even in passing in his speech.

With a costly US presidential and congressional election due next year, Schumer used the occasion to praise Indian-Americans who have been generously contributing to the election funds of the Democratic Party.

Neither did finance minister P. Chidambaram nor commerce minister Kamal Nath refer to the nuclear deal at a dinner for some of New York’s most influential people at this city’s renowned Public Library.

Henry Kissinger, the éminence grise of the American diplomatic establishment, made an embarrassed reference to declassified US state department documents in 1971, in which he had called Indira Gandhi a “bitch”.

Kissinger, who has already apologised for this and other similar unflattering references to the then Prime Minister, said he was now a convert to India’s cause.

“A convert is more passionate than a believer,” he told the dinner audience last night.

The nuclear deal did, however, come up at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or Day of Overseas Indians, at which Indian-Americans and Caribbean-Indians discussed their concerns and problems.

Several Indian-Americans expressed concern that the two-year effort they had put in to rally political support in the US for legislation enabling the implementation of the deal would be wasted.

Vayalar Ravi, the minister for overseas Indian affairs, responding to those concerns, was non-committal about the future of the deal, not going beyond broad, general support for it.

He chose a safer option of praising India’s traditional links with the Caribbean, where he recently visited Indian communities, long neglected by New Delhi.

Ravi was also called upon to defend the UPA government’s stand on the Ram affidavit, which he did by insisting that he personally was a believer in Ram.

Ronen Sen, India’s ambassador to the US and a strong defender of the nuclear deal, made only a cryptic reference to it in his address at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

“No other issue has ever enthused and united the vibrant Indian-American community as the proposed agreement on civil nuclear cooperation,” Sen said.

Unlike those in the government, corporate leaders attending India@60 have been quite vocal about the deal, especially in conversations with the media about the business opportunities it offered.

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