Pittsburgh, Sept. 24: Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may miss his old friend George W. Bush, to whom he professed India's love exactly a year ago in the White House Oval Office, the winds of change sweeping the US have brought happy tidings for Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur.
Singh and his wife arrived here today on their first visit to the US since Bush left office and was replaced by Barack Obama.
Any trace of nostalgia for their good times with Bush and his wife Laura will be more than compensated for at a very personal level by a happy reunion here between Singh and Kaur and their New York-based daughter Amrit Singh.
At the time of writing, Amrit was on her way from New York to Pittsburgh to see her parents.
Four years ago, too, when Singh was a guest of Bush, Amrit had visited her parents in Washington, but she had then refused to accept any hospitality from the Republican President, whose policies she had been tenaciously fighting as a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
She refused to stay at Blair House, the presidential guesthouse adjacent to the White House which Bush had offered Singh for his stay in Washington. Amrit had also made it clear ahead of her father’s July 2005 visit that she did not want to be invited to the White House banquet given by Bush in honour of the Prime Minister and Gursharan Kaur.
She and her American husband, Barton Beebe, a professor of law at New York University School of Law, then stayed at their expense at the Willard Intercontinental hotel, across the road from the White House.
Today, however, Amrit, vindicated by history and the American people about the Bush policies which she fiercely opposed, will happily meet her parents under the same roof in Pittsburgh where the Prime Minister and Obama are staying for the G20 summit.The change in atmospherics surrounding the political views within the prime ministerial family is a great relief for Indian officials who have been handling India’s dealings with the US.
Bush administration officials often needled Indians, more in jest but to make a point all the same, with a “see what your PM’s daughter is doing” when occasionally confronted with policy stances which the UPA government supported but were actively opposed by Amrit in her professional role. Such policies often had to do with common Indo-US positions on fighting terrorism and intelligence-sharing.
Although it is learnt that the Prime Minister’s son-in-law is not accompanying Amrit to Pittsburgh, the family will have a little, very private celebration of Singh’s birthday on its eve tomorrow.
The Prime Minister was born on September 26, 1932, but he will be in Geneva, en route home from Pittsburgh, on his birthday.
Amrit’s stock is now sky high in Washington and with the Obama administration. It is not certain if that will contribute to smoothing over clear differences between the Prime Minister and the US President on a variety of policy goals, including nuclear non-proliferation.
But it will, doubtless, add to the atmospherics today and tomorrow when Gursharan Kaur spends a lot of time with US First Lady Michelle Obama, a lawyer, whose views on issues that Amrit is neck deep in are exactly the same as that of the Prime Minister's daughter.
What Amrit started in the third year of the Bush administration by way of investigating the abuse of prisoners in US custody has now become the most successful effort in American history to obtain public disclosure of government business.
The lore among fighters for civil liberties in the US is that when Amrit started her efforts to challenge the White House in 2003, a colleague took a bet with her that he would give her one dollar for every page of secret documents that she unearthed about abuses by the Bush administration.
If the story is true and if her colleague honoured his part of the bargain, Amrit must be rich: efforts have brought out 130,000 pages of secret documents about how the Bush team violated a slew of international treaties and undermined the spirit, if not the letter, of the US Constitution.
Tonight, America's First Lady and the Prime Minister's wife will have dinner together -- along with other G20 wives -- in a setting that has immense appeal for someone born in Jalandhar and brought up in Punjab's agricultural environment in Patiala and Amritsar.
The venue for the dinner is a farm outside Pittsburgh owned by Teresa Heinz Kerry, heiress to the Heinz tomato processing fortune and wife of former presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry.
Fruits and vegetables grown organically by Teresa Kerry's son, milk products from cows and meat and eggs from free range chicken at the farm will be served at the spouses' dinner while Singh, Obama and other G-20 leaders discuss economics.