When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US on June 26, 2017 what he really wanted to do was to hang out with President Donald Trump at Camp David, the picturesque presidential resort. Modi had hoped to develop a personal bond with Trump over a glass of wine and lemonade at the resort.
This claim was made by Bob Woodward in his latest book Fear: Trump in the White House. Though the book has been dismissed as a “joke” and a work of fiction by the White House, a particular op-ed published by New York Times a few days after the release of the book has given the accounts detailed in the book a fair amount of credibility. The 448-page book claims to give an insider's account on the White House working and decision-making process in Trump's presidency.
Camp David is the country retreat for the presidents of the United States and is only about 30 minutes away from White House by a helicopter. Previous presidents have held summits with other world leaders at Camp David and taken significant decisions there. But Trump seems to always prefer his private resort Mar-a-Lago at Palm Beach or his golf course in central New Jersey or his penthouse at Trump Tower in Manhattan. This has led to wide criticism as it leads to logistical nightmare for local communities and costs millions due to security issues.
According to the book, when Modi visited the US in 2017, the then security advisor H.R. McMaster was urging for a strong relationship with India. McMaster met with the then White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to prepare for Modi's June 26 visit.
"The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, who had been courted assiduously by (Barack) Obama, was coming for a visit to the United States in June to see Trump. India was the counterweight to Pakistan, which was giving the new administration as much trouble as it had given previous ones by hedging maddeningly on terrorism. Modi wanted to go to Camp David and have dinner, bond with Trump," Woodward writes in the book.
"'It's not in the cards,' Priebus told McMaster. 'We're just going to do dinner here. It's what the president wants.'," Woodward quotes Priebus as saying. This made McMaster angry.
"He (McMaster) understood the strategic importance of India, a sworn enemy of Pakistan. Outreach and strong relations were essential. The later event for Modi was a "no-frills" cocktail reception. The working dinner was at the White House," Woodward, the famed investigative journalist, writes in the book.
The PTI reports that there was no immediate response from the Prime Minister's Office as this story broke.
What is notable is that other leaders have experienced better reception from US presidents. Even former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was treated to a special function at Camp David by then president George Bush. In fact, Bush seems to have been enthusiastic in engaging with India. During former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh's meeting with then US National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice in 2001, then president Bush had dropped in and taken Singh to the Oval Office where they spent a few minutes discussing an invitation to India. Similarly, in 2003 Bush dropped in on meetings between Rice and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in May and Rice and National Security Advisor Brajesh Misra in June.
The US had once banned Modi from entering the country on grounds of religious freedom. The ban stemmed from allegations that he had silently supported Hindu extremists during the 2002 Godhra riots in Gujarat where he was the chief minister at the time. On June 8, 2016, Modi went on to address the US Congress after becoming the prime minister. This was a stunning u-turn from the previous ban and something that led to favourable reaction for Modi from other world leaders.
Modi's meetings with world leaders has always been in news not just for its diplomatic value but also for the awkward hugs and handshakes. Modi's counterparts are often taken aback by his brisk handshakes and bear hugs. It is these awkward tactile bromances that often result in clickbait headlines than the more sober reports on trade and defence deals. His meetings with Trump ring of the same ucomfortable encounters and did that factor, in anyway, contruibute to the snub?
(With inputs from PTI)