No Time for Media from Visiting Indian Ministers Shinde and Pilot

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Washington, DC – Sachin Pilot, the Minister for Corporate Affairs (MCA) of the Government of India, officially visited the United States for two days on June 13 and14 and M. Sridharan, Counsellor (Press, Information and Culture) at the Embassy of India in Washington, DC issued a long press release at the completion of the visit outlining the programs attended by the visiting Minister Pilot with no interaction with the media.

In May, India’s Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde made an official visit to the United States to continue a dialogue with senior US Government leaders, including Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, and FBI Director Robert Muller. However, the only media involvement was through an after-the-fact press release issued by the Embassy of India in Washington, DC.

The Indian Ministers had no media interaction on their agenda and even the press release from the Indian Embassy was void of any direct quotes or statements from the Indian politicians.

In contrast, Secretary Napolitano, the US counterpart of Shinde, issued a statement which included a direct quote saying, “Today, threats transcend national borders, impacting the security and economic prosperity of the entire international community.” Secretary Napolitano, in her post-dialogue statement, added, “We will continue to collaborate with India to develop a global approach to the challenges and threats we all face.”

The visiting Indian Home Minister even stayed back when an urgency in India demanded his presence, leading American and Indian American journalists to question the lack of his media availability while visiting Washington, not only when a fatal attack happened in his home country, but also on the eve of the upcoming US-India Strategic Dialogue this month in India.

During Shinde’s visit, there was a deadly Maoist attack on party leaders in Chhattisgarh and Shinde chose to stay on in the US for personal reasons, to the dismay of the Congress Party. “No tour could be important” at this juncture, party spokesman Bhaktacharan Das told journalists in India who peppered him with a volley of questions as to whether it was proper for Shinde to be away in the US in the wake of such a situation at home.

Not all Indian delegations practice this pariah treatment of the media while visiting the US, as in recent times, Indian federal ministers and some of the Indian state chief ministers have interacted with the Indian American media. Still, there is a shyness on the part of Indian politicians and dignitaries to face the American media.

Visiting a country where there are daily press briefings from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and by members of Congress, it was strange for Ministers Shinde and Pilot not to welcome any press interaction during their official visit.

There are always opportunities for a visiting dignitary to appear, even in a venue arranged at the last minute like a “Newsmaker Event” at the National Press Club, in order to interact with media. The National Press Club, through its Newsmaker Program or even a Luncheon Event, provides a window of opportunity which was availed of by none other than the first Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. Nehru was articulate and the American media loved interacting with him.

It is time for Indian politicians to face the US media and cement the growing ties between the two countries. 

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