Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in New York happened despite several hurdles. The foreign office was opposed, especially as the PM was not meeting any Palestinian representative. In fact, Modi made no reference to Palestine in his UN General Assembly speech in New York. The Indian Embassy went out of its way to deny that any meeting was scheduled, insisting that the PM had no free time in his crowded programme in New York. However, behind the scenes, a BJP office-bearer closely associated with the RSS was working hard to ensure that the meeting took place. Netanyahu too had problems of his own. His visit to the US fell between two important Jewish festivals, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Orthodox Jews are not permitted to travel on these dates. Netanyahu had to make sure he was in New York by September 28, Modi’s last day in the city. The last time PMs of the two countries met was 11 years ago.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke to a half-empty hall at the UN General Assembly. The Indian mission wanted to ensure a full house when PM Narendra Modi addressed the UN, so Indian delegates were asked to fill up the empty chairs of some missions whose members had stayed away. There were, however, two glitches at the end of the speech. Modi was not instructed that he was expected to wait till a vote of thanks was proposed before he left the auditorium. As soon as Modi departed, the Indian contingent noisily got up and left the room even as the next speaker, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, was about to speak. A UN official could be heard muttering, over a mike that was still on, that Indians did not observe basic courtesies.
Dhokla and undhiyu
The large media contingent that travelled to the US on its own to cover Narendra Modi’s visit was envious of the small group of journalists who travelled with the Prime Minister on his special aircraft. But the official press party also had a complaint. Because of Modi’s vegetarianism, they were only served — what some chose to call — “ghas phoos” on the flight. The chicken, fish and lamb preparations on previous PM flights were completely out. Breakfast consisted of cold dhoklas and sabudana and poha instead of hot scrambled eggs on toast and sausages as in the past. The meals hosted by the Indian Embassy were invariably vegetarian, dhoklas and undhiyu the standard fare. There were no drinks, only juices, at the dinner hosted by Indian Ambassador to the US S Jaishankar at Taj Pierre Hotel, New York, much to the guests’ chagrin.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is upset that he has not been elevated to the rank of minister of state, a position held by all his three predecessors, Brajesh Mishra, M K Narayanan and Shivshankar Menon. This means that Doval cannot summon the foreign secretary or cabinet secretary to his room since he is only on a par with the principal secretary to the prime minister. Doval has not got minister of state status because Modi believes the rank has been bestowed too liberally in the past. For instance, the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority had the rank of a Cabinet minister and all eight members were equivalent to minister of state. When Modi heard this, he was aghast and ordered that the chairman be demoted to minister of state and the members to the rank of secretaries, and the strength of the committee be reduced from eight to five.
Since September 15, all Central government employees in Delhi have been logging in and out when entering and leaving office. A biometric machine outside each office building records their fingerprints. Staffers have to follow the drill whenever entering or leaving the building, so lengthy lunch breaks are duly noted. But employees have got around this by slipping out through the many side exits in the major secretariats. The machine even sends SMS reminders to those found not logging in. The Independent Evaluation Office wound up on September 10 but the former staff members are still receiving reminders that they haven’t been marked present.
A TV channel staffer phoned the Indian Consulate in New York and pointed out that by some oversight, his boss, a prominent TV anchor, had not received an invitation for the PM’s reception at the Consulate. He was informed that no journalist from India was on the guest list. However, Narendra Modi did meet Washington-based Indian journalists for an off-the-record interaction.