Sant Singh Chatwal jumps at the offer of kichdri and jeera aloo for lunch at the Taj Palace. So what if he’s the owner of the $750 million hotel chain Hampshire Hotels and Resorts Bombay Palace and has lived in America for 25 years? “My tastes remain the same and I feel strongly rooted to my land of birth.”
Mr Chatwal’s visit to India last week had a fascinating purpose: to facilitate Senator Hillary Clinton’s visit to India. “Though private, the visit’s significance cannot be underestimated,” says Mr Chatwal. “It could give a boost to the economic growth of the country.”
Besides, she could be the next US president. A recent American survey revealed that her people are finally ready to accept a woman president and Senator Clinton’s name tops the list of probable women candidates.
Meanwhile, in her three days in New Delhi, she met the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders besides corporate kahunas like Mukesh Ambani and Anand Mahindra.
“Senator Clinton’s visit is not for any personal purpose,” he clarifies. “I wanted her to see the changes India was undergoing. Anyway, it’s not a secret that the Clintons feel much for India and are emotionally attached to this country. My only selfish motive is to see India grow stronger, as it will give us a better image,” adds Mr Chatwal, one of the biggest fundraisers for the Democrats. “Senator Clinton came to my home in New York last week and declared she was on a diet. But it didn’t seem so. She ate the chicken tikka and also the rasmalai, her favourite dessert,” he chuckles fondly.
Mr Chatwal clearly remains undaunted by the defeat of the Democrats in the presidential elections. He concedes humbly, “If it hadn’t been for Bush Senior — the seasoned politician and strategist — George Bush would have never made it. Also, John Kerry did not have the charisma to pull it through.”
His White House connections apart (besides the Clintons, he is close to many other congressmen and senators), his hotel business is also sitting pretty. The ‘king of Indian curry’ boasts of hotels in major metros around the world — Montreal, Toronto, New York, Washington DC, Beverly Hills, Houston, Budapest, Hong Kong and Kaula Lumpur — and now plans to open two in India, in Mumbai and Jaipur. “We’ll be kickstarting the project in a couple of months,” he says.