Washington: Rajnath Singh, the BJP
president, ended his six-day tour of the US and returned home this
weekend, leaving many Americans with an interest in India perplexed and
Confusion, lack of clarity, mixed
messages and a questionable fundraising effort dogged the BJP president
throughout his stay in Washington and New York, robbing the main
Opposition party of an opportunity that was available on a platter to
present an alternative vision to nine years of UPA rule to an
The Obama administration completely
ignored Rajnath and his four-member delegation, comprised additionally of
Bangalore MP Ananth Kumar; Vijay Jolly, former Delhi MLA and convener of
the party’s “overseas affairs”; and Sudhanshu Trivedi, spokesperson
and political adviser to Rajnath.
Not a single administration
official met the delegation. They kept away from events where Rajnath
spoke, even those of a think-tank nature, which are normally attended by
state department officials as part of their routine outreach.
about this omission at a breakfast with Indian journalists here, Rajnath
dismissed it with the lame excuse that William Burns, the deputy secretary
of state, had met him in New Delhi only a few days ago and that meetings
with officials here would, therefore, have been redundant.
Capitol Hill, American politicians readily opened their doors to the
delegation as fellow politicians from one of America’s friendliest
countries. But at the end of their meetings with Rajnath, senators and
members of the House of Representatives were more confused about what the
BJP stood for than they were before they encountered him.
senator or Congressman or their aides would go on record, understandably
reluctant to criticise a friendly visitor and a potential Prime Minister
of India or at least a senior cabinet member in future.
privately, this correspondent was told on behalf of those from Capitol
Hill who interacted with Rajnath that if this was an example of what was
in store for India in the event of the NDA forming the next government,
the country and the momentum in Indo-US relations that Atal Bihari
Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh triggered 15 years ago would be more secure
with the UPA returning to power.
Those with insider knowledge of
Rajnath’s American itinerary, who spoke anonymously to ensure a free and
frank discussion, did not blame Rajnath. They rationalised that he is a
heartland leader with a good grasp of domestic politics, but unfamiliar
with the intricacies of international affairs unlike BJP leaders in
erstwhile ministerial offices who are known to America: Vajpayee, L.K.
Advani, Jaswant, Arun Jaitley or Arun Shourie.
It was very clear
that those who organised the BJP president’s US tour did not educate him
on any aspect of Indian foreign policy or Indo-US relations, which are not
his strong points. As a result, the BJP delegation appeared to those
Americans who interacted with its members to be merely a “B” team of
the UPA on foreign policy.
A huge gaffe came when Rajnath said at
one of his meetings here that India’s relations with its neighbours were
very good. The fact, perhaps untold to Rajnath, is that after nine years
of UPA rule, New Delhi’s relations with every one of its neighbours —
the latest being tiny and hitherto loyal Bhutan — are bad to critically
Dealings with Bangladesh, the only friend in the
neighbourhood, are expected to turn uncertain if elections bring a change
of government in Dhaka. Ditto for Nepal.
Rajnath also flummoxed
his audience, who were expecting the BJP to have its own foreign policy
when he said there will be “no major changes in foreign policy, only
some adjustments” if his party came to power.
came at a conference on Afghanistan where the BJP president read out a
speech in English, parts of which were a virtual repetition of ideas in
eerily similar language from a speech at the same conference, delivered an
hour earlier by former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
triggered speculation that Sibal, who heads the Centre for International
Relations and Diplomacy at the BJP-leaning Vivekananda International
Foundation, had written Rajnath’s speech. But the BJP president denied
it and said he had only met the former foreign secretary at the
Rajnath’s decision to speak on Afghanistan, not on
Indo-US relations, the BJP’s global vision or on anything at all on
India, raised eyebrows. India’s involvement in Afghanistan is tangential
and largely development-oriented compared to Washington’s and the focus
here now is solely on the US withdrawal next year.
think-tankers here said that if the BJP had approached any of them to
serve as a forum for outlining the leading Opposition party’s agenda for
India before an American audience, they would doubtless have agreed with
an election round the corner.
But those who planned Rajnath’s
programme chose an Indian American organisation with an unsteady record
for the BJP president to speak on a non-Indian issue during his only
public appearance in Washington. Two other little-known Indian American
organisations collaborated in that effort.
Other than a meeting
of the Overseas Friends of the BJP in New Jersey, Rajnath spoke at an
Indian American business organisation in Manhattan that is run by an
Indian who advertises himself as a Congress party follower. It reinforced
the notion here that the Opposition party had become no more than a
“B” team of the ruling coalition in New Delhi, at least in its north
The National Indian American Public Policy
Institute, an Illinois-based organisation, which has launched a “Modi
vision movement” and has formally registered its motto of “Reclaim
Bharat Pride” as a trademark in the US, did considerable damage to the
BJP president’s US mission when it tried to collect money ranging from
$500 to $10,000 per person for graduated levels of access to Rajnath in
The institute, which took a delegation that included
American legislators to Gujarat for a well-publicised meeting with chief
minister Narendra Modi in March, eventually cancelled a “groundbreaking
and historical Bharat Day event” with Rajnath on Capitol Hill after a
firestorm over its plans to put the BJP president on its shelf in exchange
for cash here.
An email from the organisation seeking money for
tiered access to the BJP president is in the possession of this newspaper.