Why did you propose former US president George Bush’s name for the Bharat Ratna?
I did nothing of the sort. I was not speaking at any forum remotely resembling a political forum. I was not speaking as a member of a political party, much less as a spokesperson. I was speaking at a FICCI AGM as Chairman of an Indo-US Forum where the topic was Obama vs Bush qua India. My address was Obama-centric and not Bush-centric. I was quite critical of Bush, especially qua Iraq. At the end of my address, purely in terms of historic initiatives qua India and for reaching out to India (including the 123 agreement), I said that Bush had definitely done much more for India than any Democratic administration. I then added, purely as a joke and in a lighter vein that he would qualify for a Bharat Ratna for his pro-India initiatives. The comment was seen and understood by all as a joke, and several persons laughed. There is no question of proposing Bush for Bharat Ratna. It was and remains a remark in a totally different context at a different forum on a different topic in a different capacity.
What led you to promise a roomful of people at a public platform that, “I don’t know what the rules are, but I will officially do something”.
My first answer is reiterated. I had added, in the same lighter vein, that I would do something officially about it. The tone and context was completely sarcastic and jocular, suggesting that someone needs to recognise Bush over other Democratic Presidents in terms of (and only of) his India initiatives. In fact, the major part of my address was devoted to a comparison, in a historical context, of Democratic and Republican Presidents qua India. Even the jocular remark was purely from India’s domestic and national viewpoint and nowhere intended to condone or justify Bush’s transgressions elsewhere.
Bharat Ratna is India’s highest civilian award, given for the highest degree of national service. Can you explain how George Bush has benefited India?
There is no question of proposing Bush, as explained above, irrespective of whether he did something or did not do anything for India. Independently of that, objective observers have found that the economic and diplomatic initiatives during this era have been truly unprecedented. These include the 123 agreement, a slew of defence-related exchanges and initiatives and some of the highest trade figures between the two countries.
How did Bush nurture the “psychology and sensitivity of India”?
The very fact that the Bush administration responded to Indian concerns on energy, on dehyphenating India and Pakistan qua US, on defence and trade issues, relatively more sympathetic on outsourcing and so on, establishes their sensitivity to Indian concerns. Conversely, they have respected our serious differences with them over Iraq, CTBT and NPT and several other issues. There is no question of Indian sovereignty being diluted or compromised ever in any manner.
You’ve got flak from both your party colleagues and the Opposition. What would your response be to those who have been offended by your comments?
In the light of my immediate and contemporaneous clarification, there would be no scope either for ‘flak’ or misunderstanding.