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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Revealed: The agenda for Bush's visit
January 25, 2006
Get ready to see United States President George W Bush and his wife Laura against the yellow and green mustard fields of Punjab with bhangra music playing in the background.
President Bush may also be driven around the Punjab countryside in an Indian-made tractor, if security concerns do not come in the way.
Notwithstanding opposition to his visit by the Communists, the Government of India is pulling out all stops to ensure that Bush's passage to New Delhi, Hyderabad and Punjab is historic.
Both sides already have a benchmark to cross. President Bill Clinton's March 2000 visit was a hit with memorable pictures of him enjoying and joining dances of Rajasthani women and Indian lawmakers making a beeline to greet him after his address to a joint session of Parliament.
Bush may want to avoid doing things Clinton did.
According to senior official sources, the nuts and bolts of Bush's visit's should be finalised in the first week of February. And no one doubts that both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bush think it is in their national interest to make the event a success.
It is against this backdrop that US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns visited India for another round of crucial talks on the Indo-US nuclear issue last week.
Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and Burns also spent a lot of time sorting out the protocol for President Bush's visit.
As Saran said at the joint press conference after their meeting, 'A part of the discussions, a very important part, was focused on the forthcoming landmark visit of President Bush to India.'
Saran said 'the itinerary, both the protocol aspects as well as the substantive aspects of the visit' were looked into.
The agenda for the Bush visit was finalised and it was decided that the advance team traveling from Washington will discuss issues further.
Among officials at the Prime Minister's Office and diplomats in the external affairs ministry, who deal with the US, the mood is cautiously upbeat.
As Rediff columnist K Subrahamanyam, one of the country's foremost strategic experts, put it: "If President Bush comes with something substantive on the Indo-US nuclear deal, his visit will exceed what even Clinton's visit achieved. However, India will warm up to him otherwise too."
If the Indo-US nuclear deal does not come through before Bush's visit, his trip will be more about "hype than substance", New Delhi believes.
A senior Indian official, who is part of the team dealing with US relations, said, "It's a question of trust. People in India want to know if the US can give technology and so much funding and investment to China, why is it not considering a democratic India for similar treatment?"
Senator and Democratic candidate in the 2004 US presidential election John Kerry and Burns' visits have kept the dialogue on track.
When Kerry met Dr Singh, the prime minister explained to the US senator why India is a unique case and about its immaculate non-proliferation record. Dr Singh is said to have told Kerry India's nuclear record should not be mentioned at all with Iran or North Korea, it should be spoken about along with nuclear States like China or Russia. Dr Singh believes India's record in nuclear non-proliferation is comparable to the best.
The Indian government recently took a group of US experts to the Tarapur nuclear power station near Mumbai.
Subrahamanyam puts the chances of the Indo-US nuclear deal getting approval of the US Congress before President Bush arrives in New Delhi at 60 percent.
If one thinks that is not good enough then it is because of "nuclear non-proliferation fundamentalists" on both sides.
However, Dr Singh is not perturbed by opposition in the US and India.
Even in his Cabinet, Human Resources Minister Arjun Singh is opposed to the deal. While outside government, the Communists, a section of the media and some scientists have apprehensions.
Most scientists are wary of the diminishing strength of India's military nuclear research facilities as a result of the Indo-US nuclear deal, which will bring a safeguards regime at most nuclear facilities.
However, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee supports Dr Singh and that is tilting the balance for the prime minister.
A fortnight ago, a core group including Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, met at 7, Race Course Road, Dr Singh's home.
National Security Advisor M K Narayanan briefed the group that included others like Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Finance Minister P Chidambaram, and Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary.
An official in the PMO said Narayanan was happy after the meeting because he felt he had convinced Sonia Gandhi and other ministers of the importance of the nuclear deal.
The government's commitment to the July 18,2005 agreement remains unfaltering and that was the message Narayanan delivered while explaining sensitive aspects of the deal.
Agriculture is one of the issues Dr Singh will take up with President Bush and that is why Bush will visit Punjab, India's granary.
Dr Singh wants to bring in a second green revolution and he believes that US help is imperative for this initiative.
Other issues like US support for India's candidature to the United Security Council and the US' big-ticket announcement for funding in research and development are also expected to be high on the agenda. But experts feel agriculture is one sector where things will change fundamentally if American cooperation is activated.
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