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|April 5, 2001||
The Clinton shadow over India
Scarred by his ignominious final acts in office, former US President Bill Clinton has stepped out of the shadow of scandal to try and be a healer during a tour of earthquake-ravaged Gujarat. The tour will culminate in a meeting of two scandal-hit leaders when Clinton is welcomed in New Delhi by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who heads a government damaged by a bribery expose.
For Clinton and Vajpayee, the much-publicised tour helps shift attention from the scandals wracking them to the almost-forgotten disaster that struck Gujarat with a vengeance. However, it will take Clinton a lifetime to rebuild his shattered image, while the bribery scandal is likely to haunt the ailing Vajpayee to the bitter end.
Clinton and Vajpayee epitomise the attrition of political ethics and the fall of leadership standards in the world.
The stench from Clinton's parting presidential gifts points to the rising political baseness: His midnight pardons of many drug dealers, swindlers and other assorted felons were in some cases tied to donor pledges to his library foundation. The sleaze was also apparent from the role of his brother and brother-in-law in pleading the cases of some felons, the release of four convicted swindlers in exchange for votes from their Hasidic Jewish community for Hillary Clinton, and the Marc Rich pardon after the fugitive broker's ex-wife contributed more than $ 1 million to Clinton and the Democratic Party.
The once-charismatic Vajpayee has led a government by cronyism. The more his health has faltered, the more the power of his political cronies has grown. His closest buddy, Jaswant Singh, a politician with no grassroots base, now presides over the powerful foreign and defence ministries.
The bribery expose paints the Vajpayee government as guided by big money and powerful lobbies. It will be difficult for Vajpayee's party to live down the image of its president being caught on video camera accepting a cash bribe from mock-up arms dealers.
When Vajpayee hosts a private dinner meeting with Clinton on Saturday, the two can exchange notes on life under political disgrace.
The Gujarat tour is an attempt by Clinton to return to his original post-White House plans that were upset by the controversy and scandal that marked his initial entry into private life. Those plans called for the promotion of peace and good causes and for raking in big bucks on the speaking circuit.
Old habits die hard. On his India tour, sponsored by prominent Indian-Americans, Clinton is seeking contributions -- the very drive that brought him into trouble at home. It remains to be seen how much money Clinton collects from Indian industrialists for his library foundation, earthquake relief and other causes.
In his first role as a global healer, Clinton has chosen a country that he neglected for much of his presidency. When he finally came to India toward the fag end of his presidency, he, however, made himself immensely popular with the Indian chattering class.
Clinton left the White House with no India policy despite the Indian elation over his visit. One of his last acts -- letting China off the hook on its missile transfers to Pakistan -- showed his insensitivity toward India.
After the barren years under Clinton, the United States and India now have an opportunity to begin forging a strategic partnership.The growing power disequilibrium in Asia, accentuated by China's rise and Russia's and Japan's decline, undergirds the need for such a partnership between the world's most powerful and most populous democracies.
Increasingly looking like a spent leader, Vajpayee, however, is too hooked to the euphoria stirred up by Clinton's presidential trip, when he danced joyfully with village women, exulted over Indian food, and massaged India's ego in a speech to Parliament -- but delivered little on substance.
In fact, Vajpayee is too physically sick and politically damaged to grasp the wrong signal he may be sending out to the Bush White House by hosting a Clinton still pursued by storm clouds.
As it is, Vajpayee created a needless impression during the US presidential campaign that New Delhi favoured Al Gore. This notion was reinforced by Vajpayee's poorly timed visit to Washington and New York last September and his meetings with Gore, Hillary Clinton, and some Democratic fundraisers from the Indian-American community. The Indian-American community, whose clout in Washington had been growing, also erred in putting most of its eggs in the Democratic basket in the presidential race.
India has to work hard to develop a rapport with the Bush team. For that, it has to first come out of the Clinton shadow.
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