Industry captains and journalists in the northeast were numbed into silence Sunday when External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee read out almost verbatim a written speech on India's 'Look East' policy that he delivered four months ago.
I have heard that the men and women at the Foggy Bottoms here in the US, are slow and reluctant to change their policies. Actually, I know it to be so. During the Clinton Presidency, some years after the collapse of communism in the Soviet-Eastern European nations, I had applied to register myself as an unpaid consultant [$1 nominal pay!] with the Federal Trade Commission. This was required of me and my research team, to access the agency's database. It was an economic database, dated, contained no sensitive information whatsoever, and rarely visited, save by obscure academic nerds who had nothing better to do. My application was rejected. Apparently the State Department had raised objections, as I was then a citizen of India. A fifteen year vintage Indian immigrant was still a Soviet stooge, when Boris Yeltsin was a friend, and a close ally!
I can, therefore, empathize with Susanta Talukdar, the Guwahati-based correspondent of The Hindu, who came to Mr. Mukherjee's defence:
Probably there is nothing else the minister could think of while talking about the Look East policy and so he repeated word by word here what he told a meeting on the same issue sometime in June in Shillong.
What I find puzzling, though, is that the organizers of the event are reported to have been enthused and excited about the minister's speech. Well, the organizers may not have heard or read the earlier speech, so what's puzzling about it, you ask. Who were the organizers here? The public diplomacy division of the external affairs ministry!
A simple explanation of the fiasco would be that some bureaucratic minion in the MEA was too lazy to write a new speech, so he dug out an older one from the stack of dusty files on his table, and pushed it up to the minister. The minister, as a seasoned politician, is wont to forget what he had said an hour ago. We must forgive him, therefore, for he knew not what he had talked about four months ago!