White House Letter: Bush’s India trip echoes at home
By Elisabeth Bumiller The New York Times Sunday, February 26, 2006
WASHINGTON President George W. Bush is planning a two-day wind sprint across India this week, when he will meet with political leaders, chat up high-tech millionaires and give a speech at a 16th-century fort. But to the consternation of the Indians, he will not see the country’s most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, a decision Bush blamed last week on an omnipotent scheduler.
“Look, if I were the scheduler, perhaps I’d be doing things differently,” Bush said when he was asked in an interview with Indian reporters at the White House why he was skipping the Taj. “I’ll be the president, we’ve got the scheduler being the scheduler. I’m going to miss a lot of the really interesting parts of your great country. I know that.”
Bush has never been a sightseer, and his planned two days in India and one in Pakistan are typical of a president who visited the Great Wall of China in 30 minutes flat. For the most part, the president’s India is one of strategic calculations – a hoped-for nuclear deal, a booming market for American goods and an Asian powerhouse to counterbalance China.
But Bush did sound notes of eagerness last week about his first trip to India, the world’s largest democracy and a country that has long cast a powerful spell on the Western imagination. People who know Bush say he has an interest in the country through little-known personal and political connections in Texas. While he was governor, Bush befriended a number of prosperous Indian doctors and business executives, all Republicans, who captivated him as embodiments of the American dream and contributed handsomely to his campaigns.
One of them was Durga Agrawal, the founder of a Houston-based company, Piping Technology & Products, who was born 60 years ago in a village in central India without electricity or a water supply. Agrawal went to secondary school about 25 kilometers, or 15 miles, away and only returned home by bike every three or four months. He went from there to the University of Delhi and then to the University of Houston for master’s and doctorate degrees in industrial engineering.
“I really admire the professors in this country,” Agrawal said in a telephone interview Friday. “We foreigners come, and they pour their hearts, souls and minds into us, and we do not speak like them, but they educate us.”
Agrawal first met Bush when he was running a second time for governor, and he said he had raised as much as $100,000 among Indian friends for Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. He was a guest at the state dinner for the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, last July, and said he was stunned when the president seemed to remember him so easily.
“All of us claim to know the president very well, but we wonder if he really knows us,” Agrawal said. “But he introduced me to the prime minister of India as ‘my good friend from Texas.’ I was totally taken by that. I tell people about it all the time.”
Another Indian supporter of Bush from Texas, Dr. Virendra Mathur, a Dallas cardiologist, said a president who made the spread of democracy a central theme of his second term was naturally inclined to support a country where the political opposition so regularly trounced the incumbents.
“The fact that the ruling party gets overthrown in almost every election tells you that democracy really works,” Mathur said. Bush, he said, “realizes that India has a lot of potential, and he’s watching the 7 to 8 percent annual growth rate.”
Bush is also said to get along well with the prime minister even though Singh’s daughter, Amrit Singh, is a Yale- educated staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who regularly detonates explosive press releases against the Bush administration. (“The public has a right to know the full truth about the treatment of detainees not just in Abu Ghraib but elsewhere in Iraq, Afghanistan and GuantÃ¡namo Bay,” she said in a release earlier this month, after new photographs of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison were made public.)
Singh, the son of subsistence farmers who earned a doctorate in economics from Oxford University and then drove India toward economic reform as finance minister in the 1990s, has an engaging manner that Bush likes.
“The previous Indian prime minister was a man of very few words,” said Michael Green, the former senior director for Asian affairs on Bush’s National Security Council, speaking of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “When I was a note-taker for meetings with him, I would rarely go beyond one page. The current prime minister is a very modest man, very humble man, very sincere, very charming. And there’s a nice chemistry.”
In interviews last week, Bush said he would have to visit the Taj Mahal, a three-hour drive from New Delhi, another time. (The former president Bill Clinton, who is an avid sightseer, visited the Taj on a five-day trip to India in 2000.)
“The part of international travel” that Bush “likes the best, and the part he’s best at, is meeting with other leaders,” said Green, who is now a senior adviser at the private Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washignton. “He’ll make a lot of time for that, and he’ll spend a lot of time preparing for it. That for him is the high value for travel.”
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