The Maharashtra government was incensed that the American authorities asked for identity card details from senior ministers including the Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who almost threatened to boycott the President's functions till an apology was made by U.S. Consul General Paul Folmsbee.
While the Chief Minister received President Obama at the airport on Saturday, he did not attend the 26/11 commemorative address at the Taj. But he later made it to the business events. His deputy Chhagan Bhujbal who raised the issue of identity cards being demanded from the Ministers, throwing the U.S. authorities into a tizzy on Friday, finally attended the Taj meeting and even presented the President with the English translation of Jyotiba Phule's book Slavery.
The President was very touched by this, Mr. Bhujbal told The Hindu. “I gave him Mahatma Phule's book which was written in 1873. It is dedicated to the good people of the U.S. as a token of admiration for their sublime disinterestedness and self-sacrifice in fighting for the abolition of slavery. The book is dedicated to the anti-slavery movement,” he said.
“Mr. Obama was touched that somebody from that time had connected with the anti-slavery movement. He said it was a great gift for him,” Mr. Bhujbal added.
The Chief Minister who received him at the airport too presented Mr. Obama with a coffee table book on Maharashtra. Mr. Chavan told the U.S. President that he hoped the book would be part of his library at the White House and it would remind him of his trip to Mumbai and Maharashtra. Mr Obama thanked him for the book.
The Chief Minister's Office earlier said that due to logistical reasons, Mr. Chavan would be unable to attend the Taj meeting. However, Union Minister Salman Khursheed who was at the airport managed to make it to the Taj.
Earlier, the government had been upset about Mr. Obama giving the police memorial a go-by. There was also much concern over the expectation of U.S. officials to make “flexible” security checks of the weapons flown in from the U.S. Explaining Mr. Chavan's absence at the Taj address, his Public Relations Officer said it was logistically not possible for the Chief Minister to make it to the Taj as he could not fly. Mr. Chavan had to take the road to his official residence as the air space had been blocked for Mr. Obama's chopper Marine One.
Maharashtra Chief Secretary J.P. Dange was the only other bureaucrat who attended the Taj function and was quite happy he did. “The President asked me how the State of Maharashtra is. I welcomed him to our State. He appreciated Mumbai and he seemed to have a good impression,” Mr. Dange said.
Amid speculation that the Home department and the police force had “boycotted” the function at the Taj, Additional Chief Secretary, Home, Chandra Iyengar told The Hindu that there was no question of boycott. “How can we boycott? The bureaucracy was represented by the Chief Secretary and the government side was represented by the Deputy Chief Minister. So there was full representation. As for me, I was monitoring the security.”
Mumbai police Force One chief Sadanand Date who was invited to the event too stayed away. Asked if this was to express solidarity with the police force, Mr. Date said, “We had to maintain a vigil and keep alert. It was the call of duty [that kept me away].”
S.V. Bijoor, Joint Secretary and Joint Chief Protocol Officer rubbished the speculation over the alleged breach of protocol fuelled after Mr. Chavan greeted Mr. Obama before Union Minister Salman Khursheed. “There is no breach of protocol. As the head of the home State, Mr. Chavan preceded a Union Minister. Even the communication from the Ministry of External Affair lists his name ahead of Mr. Khursheed's,” Mr. Bijoor said.
Keywords: Obama's India visit