7 June 2003
ADVANI TAKES ALL ON FAMILY OUTING AT TAX-PAYER'S COST
From Jal Khambata
NEW DELHI: Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani took alongwith him not only his wife and daughter as he embarked on 10-day high profile tour of America and Britain early Saturday but he invited officials accompanying him also to bring along their wives as if it were a family outing.
The 23-member delegation that took the flight to the United States also includes 11 journalists. They were given the schedule of meetings to show how busy Advani would be during the trip but giggling wives at the airport itself made them feel that they had become a part of the picnic at the tax-payer's cost to escape the Summer heat of Delhi.
Advani's Private Secretary Deepak Chopra is accompanied by his wife, his IAS Secretary designated as Officer on Special Duty Ajay Prasad is also accompanied by his wife and so are Home Secretary N Gopalaswami and Intelligence Bureau Chief Kunal Pal Singh.
It is not that Advani will have no serious business when the foreign jaunt of the entourage he is carrying would cost so much to the Exchequer but Foreign Ministry officials who had been giving briefings to him knowing well how important was his visit are now skeptic if he and the accompanied officials would have enough time for business rather than show around their better halves.
While these IFS officers stress that Advani should not have encouraged his staff and officials to bring their wives along and thus degrade importance of the trip, inquiries showed that it was Advani himself who suggested that their wives can also accompany.
While he and the officials will be busy in meetings, his wife and sister and other wives can have their own agenda, making joy trips and holding sessions with the Indian ladies settled abroad, it was sought to be stressed.
According to the External Affairs Ministry sources, special instructions have gone out to the Indian missions in America and Britain for making arrangements for Advani at par with that of the Prime Minister. At every stoppage, they have to keep 45 vehicles at the disposal of Advani's entourage while 35 rooms have been reserved in posh hotels in each destination the entourage will touch.
Advani is not only meeting top leaders in America and Britain but he has also lined up a score of meetings with he influential foreign media in a bid to change their anti-India slant and try to remove their impression that the BJP is a Hindu nationalist party as they invariably describe in their reports.
While he is making use of the trip to project himself as the future leader of India, he also wants to make his staff and bureaucrats working under him be happy by throwing open to them and their wives the logistic support of the Indian missions to enjoy themselves. The way our foreign office is handling his trip would make diplomats admit that Advani is already being treated as the prime minister in the making, though it is another matter that the ruling BJP is still shy to say so openly and boldly.
Advani already had a series of briefings by the External Affairs Ministry officials spread over two weeks but that is not the end. Three top bureaucrats have been detained to provide him further briefing in Chicago and London and assist him the way the embassies assist the Prime Minister.
The Indian ambassadors of the neighbouring countries are generally summoned to brief the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister whenever they are on trip to any part of the globe. It is, however, unprecedented and for the first time that the same kind of status and importance has been accorded to Advani as the Indian diplomats abroad have been given specific instructions to remain in attendance for any clarifications he seeks and brief him before every important meeting he holds with the leaders of the host countries.