Much ado about dinner

You have heard of the glittering party that Prime Minister Manmohan

By B V Rao

Published: Thu 11 Nov 2010, 8:44 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:28 AM

Singh threw for President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama at 7, Race Course Road on Sunday. The diyas and lights, the open night sky, the dozens of camels, the old Hindi film songs, the 12 tables named after Americans with Indian connections, etc. etc. But if

I were to tell you that that was perhaps not what the visiting dignitaries wanted, that they just wanted a quiet, private dinner with the Prime Minister and his wife? Yes, that’s true, or at least that’s what the American side expressed a desire for. They just wanted a small private dinner with the Singhs and not the full-fledged power-dinner that it turned out to be.

Here is proof. On October 28 the US Embassy in Delhi put out a “press gaggle”, a sort of press advisory on the President’s engagements for his India trip. This press release was the transcript of a press conference that the White House press secretary and other officials held in Washington earlier and here is what Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes said of the Obama’s dinner with the Prime Minister: From Mumbai, we then move on the Delhi. And the first event that the President will do in Delhi is a cultural stop. He’s going to visit Humayun’s tomb in New Delhi… and then that night, the President will have a private dinner with… the President and the First Lady…. will have a private dinner with Prime Minister Singh and his wife. I’ll just state briefly on that…the President has had a very close personal relationship with

Prime Minister Singh from his first meeting in London at the G20. As much as any leader in the world, I think he’s somebody who has had a close intellectual connection with the President on a range of issues surrounding economic growth and development, so he’s very much looking forward to this opportunity to have a private dinner with the Prime Minister.”

This was released in New Delhi on October 28, which means that till as late as a week before the visit, President Obama had desired only a “private dinner” with Manmohan. So what happened thereafter? How did a private dinner for the US President become an official dinner with leaders and VIPs of all hues being invited? The cue is perhaps in the composition of the High Table. Seated at this table were the Obamas, the Singhs, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee.

Get the hint? Somebody from the Indian side obviously prevailed upon the Americans to change a “private dinner” into an elaborate official affair to ensure that the two most powerful persons of India (Sonia and Rahul) shared the high table with the most powerful couple in the world. Because there was no way at least Rahul Gandhi could have been seated on the same table as the Obama’s at the scheduled official dinner President Pratibha Patil the next day. It’s just not easy being Manmohan Singh. You can’t even have a meal all on your own!

B V Rao is editor Governance Now

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