Inside Track | Donald Trump’s India visit and his differences between old-school bureaucrats in Washington

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March 01, 2020 6:00 AM

It seems there are differences on US-India policy between the old-school bureaucrats in Washington and the recent Trump appointees, including his own family members.

 

Incidentally, there was unhappiness on all sides with Trump’s speechwriters and content providers for the trip. (Reuters)

ON THE EVE of the US President’s visit to India, a senior administration official in Washington indicated that issues concerning religious freedom, Kashmir and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act would be taken up seriously during talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. But at Trump’s press conference in New Delhi, he breezily dismissed these issues as India’s internal concerns. It seems there are differences on US-India policy between the old-school bureaucrats in Washington and the recent Trump appointees, including his own family members. Trump went along with the latter, although a communal riot broke out in Delhi during his visit. Incidentally, there was unhappiness on all sides with Trump’s speechwriters and content providers for the trip. An old India hand wondered why the mention of Mahatma Gandhi was almost negligible when Trump was in Ahmedabad. The criticism from Trump’s people was that there were far too many long-winded, unpronounceable Hindi words in the text. Trump stumbled on “Vivekananda”, as he read from the teleprompter, as well as mispronouned chaiwallah.

Cash strapped

An issue which the US embassy hopes was resolved during the talks between Modi and Trump is handing over possession of Lincoln House, formally the US Consulate in Mumbai, to Cyrus Poonawalla. The vaccine manufacturer and his son Adar successfully bid Rs 750 crore for the two-acre former Wankaner Palace back in 2015. But later, there was a dispute between the defence ministry and the Maharashtra government over who owns the lease rights. Poonawalla has held back full payment till he gets the clear title and possession, but the US embassy has already purchased a new Consulate building. The embassy’s embarrassing financial shortfall will reportedly soon come up before the US Congress’s budget appropriation committee.

PM’s Warning

Several central ministers are still recovering from the dressing down they received from PM Modi after a recent Cabinet meeting. Modi generally warned them that it had come to his knowledge that some of their children and sons-in-law were running questionable NGOs. The PM based his information on the feedback he had received from intelligence agencies. When he first came to power, Modi had emphasised to Cabinet colleagues the dangers of a sting operation. He did not want to face the predicament of Manmohan Singh, whose second term in office was overshadowed by scandals and stings. In his address, Modi focused on NGOs run by ministerial relatives and questioned where the funds for such organisations came from. He also cautioned ministers and their kin to keep a distance from people of dubious reputation and not to accept too many invitations for diplomatic parties.

Tukde-Tukde Gang

In 2004, the personable scions of political dynasties such as Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Sandeep Dikshit and Jitin Prasada were dubbed part of the Rahul Gandhi brigade. In Parliament, they hung around with Rahul. By 2009, most were rewarded with junior minister posts. But today the gang members are the first to proclaim their dissatisfaction with the leadership drift in the party. Dikshit came out strongly last week demanding that leadership elections be held. Shashi Tharoor, who is also perceived as being close to the Gandhi family, tweeted Dikshit’s interview. Another former favourite, Jairam Ramesh, compared the party’s electoral debacle in Delhi to the coronavirus. Milind Deora set the cat among the pigeons by praising the Aam Aadmi Party for its Delhi victory and financial management of the state. Scindia has threatened to take to the streets against Kamal Nath’s government in Madhya Pradesh, while Rajasthan Deputy CM Pilot is in a permanent state of war against CM Ashok Gehlot. Clearly, the media got it wrong dubbing the entitled, young blood as part of Rahul’s gang or else, loyalty being a two-way street, the brigade resents Rahul’s failure to stick up for them.

No Three in One

The speculation is that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could be elected to the Rajya Sabha in March since the Congress is in a position to win around nine Upper House seats. Vadra’s name was floated by Sajjan Singh Verma, a minister in the Madhya Pradesh government, who is close to CM Kamal Nath. The CM would like to cut to size his rivals Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, both of whom are hoping for a Rajya Sabha seat. However, Vadra’s entry to the Rajya Sabha is unlikely. Three members from one family in Parliament sends the wrong message, particularly when Rahul is preaching to his party people not to promote family members.

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