WASHINGTON/NEW DELHI (TIP): They were scheduled to commiserate Mumtaz Mahal’s death and celebrate Shah Jehan’s love for her. But Michelle and Barack Obama will instead be condoling the death of Saudi monarch King Abdullah and possibly cursing India’s rule-bound judiciary.
Whether our Supreme Court was upholding the majesty of law and regulations even for the powerful, or cussedly undermining the Indian ethos of “atithi devo bhava” (guest is God) may be debated for long years, but the immediate upshot is the US first couple’s plans for a brief romantic interlude at the Taj has been scuppered.
The White House confirmed shortly before the Obamas emplaned for India that the Agra leg of the visit was off and the President regretted not being able to visit the Taj. It made no reference to the Supreme Court’s directive that led to the Taj sortie being spiked, but offered a tortured explanation for how the president would instead leave Delhi on Tuesday morning soon after a speaking engagement to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to “meet with King Salman and other Saudi officials and offer his condolences on behalf of the American people,” a job that was initially entrusted to vice-president Joe Biden.
“The vice-president was originally to have led a delegation to Saudi Arabia on the president’s behalf. As the president’s and vice-president’s travel schedules baecame clearer, we determined that the window when the vice-president would be on the ground in Riyadh coincided with the president’s departure from India,” read a labored statement from the White House.
“Accordingly, we adjusted the schedule in coordination with the Indian Government so that the president would be able to depart India following his speech on Tuesday to stop in Riyadh during the return trip,” it added in a statement, without any reference to the reported security kerfuffle and Supreme Court intervention that led to scrapping of the Agra visit.
On a lighter note, one positive outcome of this episode is that Agra got a tune-up without the burden of a suffocating, security-laden visit by the American president and his spouse. The snafu also means the Obamas may well return to India for a third visit, even if it is post-presidency, particularly since their daughters Sasha and Malia could not accompany them because of school.