On the Plane

Behind the Scenes With Clinton in India

By Glenn Kessler
MUMBAI, India--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began her three-day trip to India on Saturday with a burst of public diplomacy, but her meeting with a group of poor women left some residents here cold.

Indian newspapers described how local police gave no advance notice before barring residents of an upscale neighborhood from returning to their homes during Clinton's 90-minute visit to a shop maintained by the Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA). Traffic also was blocked at a normally busy intersection, and parked cars were towed to make room for a 20-foot-wide red carpet.

The Sunday Mumbai Mirror recounted how one man, Vishal Shah, had a bitter argument with police because he could not return home to his 6-year-old daughter, who he had left alone while he went out to do a brief errand. Shah was supposed to take his daughter to school but could not get any sympathy from the police.

Other residents, including a woman trying to see a son just discharged from the hospital, recounted their tales of woe to the newspaper. Though none of those interviewed seemed to fault Clinton directly, the front-page article was headlined: "Hillary Shuts People Out of Their Homes."

Other news coverage was more positive. The Times of India, the country's leading newspaper, headlined its account of Clinton's visit to the women's group: "Hillary Shows She Has a Heart"--though it too noted the heavy-handed police tactics.

Clinton and her staff spent 44,000 rupees at the shop, the equivalent of about $900, according to the Times. Clinton was so pleased with one of her purchases, a beautifully embroidered organic cotton shirt dyed the deep purplish-red color of pomegranates, that she wore it to dinner Saturday night with reporters traveling with her.

Clinton on Saturday also participated in an hour-long discussion on education policy with Bollywood star Aamir Khan at St. Xavier's College for a nationally televised program, "Times Now." An estimated 200 million people are expected to watch the discussion, but Khan was at times strangely off message. He spoke about how he dropped out of school, asserted that most Indian teachers were incompetent and suggested that he didn't think Indians needed to know English (though, he said, he thinks in English, not local languages).

Note: In my news story on the policy discussion, I reported that Clinton, on her first overseas trip since breaking her elbow, seemed like the Energizer Bunny on Saturday while several of her exhausted staffers fell asleep during the event. I was marveling at Clinton's stamina, not trying to make a point about her staff. She keeps a brutal pace.

Quote of the day:
"You're lucky to have been elected president. I didn't have the same luck"

--Clinton to Ramilaben Rohit, the newly elected leader of 1.1 million-person SEWA.

By Washington Post Editor |  July 19, 2009; 8:40 AM ET  | Trip:  Clinton in Asia, July 2009
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Mr. Kessler: "Times Now" is not a TV program. It's the name of a channel run by the Times of India, India's oldest English language newspaper (founded 1836). Of course, Times Now is naturally not as old!

Posted by: Jai | July 19, 2009 4:21 PM

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