The India Cables

One April, a nice one from the U.S. Embassy in Incredible India

lighter side

lighter side

Diplomacy could have its lighter side as well. A cable ( >147981: unclassified ) sent in 2008, from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, under the name of Steven White, Chargè d'Affaires, offered an amusing insight into diplomatic sense of humour and the rather strange ways in which diplomats keep their cool during tough times.

The cable described two extraordinary meetings that had discussed the delays in reaching an Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement. These meetings were not about sensitive details or secret terms.

Rather, they fervently discussed planetary positions and Vaastu Shastra (traditional Indian architectural principles that combined astrology) remedies that could help improve India-U.S. relations.

The cable was accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

According to the cable, concerned by the delays, a worried David Mulford, U.S. Ambassador to New Delhi, had first met Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and cautioned him that he would go on a hunger strike until the Indian government submitted the IAEA safeguards agreement. He also threatened to go on a march to the Department of Atomic Energy headquarters in Mumbai “in the days immediately before the next committee meeting.” Mr. Mulford “asserted that he would wear a dhoti (white robe) and chappals (sandals) and carry a staff” during the march. However, the wise Foreign Secretary counselled the Ambassador against the march as it would expose him to “potholes” on the roads and “wild monkeys” on the way.

Still unconvinced, the Ambassador took up the issue with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, the cable recounted. At that meeting, Mr. Mulford recalled the predictions of an astrologer who had told him that April would be a better time to submit the safeguards agreement since the planets “Jupiter and Saturn share an alignment.” If the agreement was delayed and was reached only in May, the planetary positions would turn unfavourable and make “the Board [the IAEA Board] decision more difficult to achieve,” he deadpanned.

According to the cable, Mr. Narayanan, appearing to have a better understanding of planetary events, corrected Mr. Mulford and pointed out that only the “Communists [the Left parties were opposing the nuclear deal with the U.S.]” and not the government would face the obstacles predicted by the astrologer. Mr. Narayanan was confident that the planets Venus and Mercury would make the Communists “level-headed and rational.”

Some remedies

Mr. Narayanan also revealed the reasons for the difficulties facing the Indo-U.S. relationship, the cable added. He told Mr. Mulford that the U.S. Embassy was not located “in proper alignment with the planets and earth” and prescribed Vaastu Shastra remedies. “You should shift the Chancery 90 degrees so that it faces east,” Mr. Narayanan directed. “An eastern facing Chancery would receive the sun for longer hours, making the U.S. officers' outlook towards India brighter,” he explained.

Agreeing with the advice, the Ambassador promptly wrote to the State Department to sanction $250 million to make the Chancery vaastu-compliant. This, as Mr. Narayanan promised, would “help facilitate the completion of the civil nuclear cooperation initiative,” Mr. Mulford explained. According to the cable, he also suggested ways to mobilise this money. “Considering the stakes of U.S. firms in the completion of the initiative, post suggests that the Department approach General Electric and Westinghouse to contribute.” In addition, he requested funding for yoga classes for Embassy officials which he thought would, make “the mission more flexible and relaxed” and “help channel our positive energy to contribute to the U.S.-India strategic partnership.”

If anyone was wondering after reading this cable whether the U.S. diplomats and the Indian officials had lost their bearings, and whether tough negotiations had taken their toll and frayed their nerves, Mr. White at the end of the cable assured everyone that nothing of that kind had happened.

The Chargè d'Affaires, it turned out, was amusing himself and having a good laugh. The mail was cabled on April 1 to various U.S. Missions, with Mr. White signing off wishing everyone “Happy April Fool's Day from Incredible India!”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

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