Obama not to visit Amritsar or Agra

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NEW DELHI - With both Amritsar and Agra off his itinerary, US President Barack Obama’s four-day visit to India will only be to Mumbai and New Delhi with business-like meetings that will underscore the importance of the “growing ties” and a “strategic partnership”.

Obama begins his visit to India from Mumbai on the evening of Nov 6. Earlier, there was a plan for Obama to fly to Amritsar from Mumbai next day, but the trip has been nixed due to “logistic” issues and reasons of perception, well informed sources said.

The sources said the White House security team, which visited India last month, was not in favor of Obama wearing the traditional scarf to cover his head during his visit to the Golden Temple.

The scarf, they felt, may convey an image of him appearing to be a Muslim, an impression the Obama team would like to avoid in view of past experiences.

Right-wing critics in the US were quick to seize on pictures of Obama dressed as a Somali elder on a visit to Africa in 2006 and tried to portray Obama, a Christian by faith but whose grandfather was Muslim, to be a closet Muslim who was under attack by conservative America.

After Amritsar dropped off the schedule, there was a possibility of the Obamas going to Agra, home to the Taj Mahal and a favourite destination of visiting dignitaries. But the Obamas were not very keen, specially as their daughters Malia and Sasha won’t be coming to India with them, to visit the Taj Mahal by themselves.

In Mumbai, Obama will stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel Palace and Tower, the centre of the carnage unleashed by Pakistan-based terrorists on Nov 26, 2008, and visit other key sites linked up with 26/11 massacre like the Oberoi Trident.

“This will send the message of India-US solidarity in the face of global terrorism, said a source who spoke only on condition he was not identified.

Obama’s visits to 26/11 sites will also seek to allay apprehensions of critics in India who are raising questions over US motives in not warning India in time about the likely 26/11 attacks.

According to reports, the wives of David Coleman Headley, an American-Pakistan Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who scouted targets for the Mumbai attacks, disclosed that that they had passed on information about Headley’s links to LeT and his growing interest in India, but the FBI did not act on the tip-offs.

Obama will also address a meeting attended by honchos of the Indian business world in Mumbai before flying to Delhi on the afternoon of Nov 7.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is planning to host a gala dinner for Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama Nov 7. It will seek to reciprocate the first state dinner of his presidency Obama hosted for Manmohan Singh in a white tent on the lawns of the White House in November last year.

On Nov 8 there will be back-to-back engagements starting with a ceremonial reception followed by official talks with Manmohan Singh and an address to the joint session of parliament during which Obama is expected to announce a bigger role for India on the global stage.

Obama flies out of India to Indonesia on the morning of Nov 9.

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