India Insight

Diplomatic disaster deja vu for incensed India

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” so wrote Ian Fleming in his James Bond thriller Goldfinger.

With the reported frisking of Indian U.N. representative Hardeep Puri at a U.S. airport coming just days after a similar incident involving a senior Indian diplomat, the outraged Indian foreign ministry may well be considering the third option.
A passenger is scanned using "backscatter x-ray technology" at a security check-point at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts November 22, 2010.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder
After expressing its anger at the pat-down of Indian Ambassador to Washington Meera Shankar on Thursday, the emergence of Puri’s incident has India feeling unfairly victimised.

Protests have been lodged and strong words issued out of New Delhi. In response, a review of protocol has been promised by Washington.

But are these back-to-back incidents merely an embarrassing coincidence or confirmation of improper procedures?

India’s indignation over (un)diplomatic conventions

Forget WikiLeaks, according to India’s Foreign Minister the greatest threat to Indo-U.S. relations are the hands of airport security guards on New Delhi’s diplomatic elite.
A Transportation Security Agency (TSA) worker runs her hands over the head of a traveler during a patdown search at Denver International Airport, November 24, 2010.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking
On Dec 4, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar was pulled from the interminable airport security queue at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Mississippi and subjected to a full body pat-down by security officials, despite reportedly stressing her diplomatic credentials.

India’s three biggest English newspapers gave the story front-page treatment on Friday, jostling for column inches alongside the continued investigations into a $39 billion telecoms scam and India’s crucial role in the ongoing climate change talks in Cancun.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s view, that the incident was “appropriate under the circumstances“, fuelled a sense of injustice in New Delhi.

Europe-bound passengers stranded at Delhi airport

Europe-bound passengers were still stranded at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi airport on Tuesday, five days after European airports were cut off from the rest of the world by a huge volcanic ash cloud. Some of the affected travellers spoke to Reuters at the airport about their desperate efforts to get home.

Polish tourist Joanna was travelling from Sri Lanka to Poland.

Paolo Ficara, an Italian, has returned to India after a visit to Nepal and Bhutan.

Tomasso Berreti, also an Italian, was supposed to fly back to Italy three days ago.

India’s dream of ‘world-class’ airports and why I can’t afford it

After a two-hour flight sitting a few feet away from four boisterous children who made enough noise to put a marching band to shame, emerging at Hyderabad’s swanky new airport for my first visit to the city proved very soothing for my frayed nerves.

The spacious terminal building, high glass walls, and the view, as you step outside, of palm trees and people leisurely posing for photographs in front of water fountains made me recall chaotic scenes back at Delhi’s airport, as I allowed myself a wry grin.

planeq.jpgMy admiration for what the aviation minister has described as India’s first truly “world-class” airport vaporized when on my return trip, a smiling attendant approached me at the terminal and directed me to a counter that collected 375 rupees from every passenger flying out of the city — courtesy a recently introduced toll called UDF or User Development Fee (International travellers were asked to shell out a thousand rupees).

Searching for a brighter future for India

Sometimes journalists are accused of only writing about bad news, so I wanted to share with you a wonderful day I had last Friday travelling to Hyderabad.

For a change, even the journey was smooth. I went on a brand-new plane with one of India’s new airlines — not only was the service good, but it actually left exactly on time, and arrived early. A bit of a rarity in my recent experience of India’s congested airports and airspace.

And when I arrived, what an airport. The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, which was opened in March, is truly state-of-the-art, incredibly clean, very spacious and stylish. A public-private partnership, it would grace any country in the world, and clearly had been built with room for Hyderabad to expand. Again, a pleasant change from Delhi’s chaos, where the airport is several steps behind demand.The private sector won’t solve all of India’s problems, but here were a couple of examples of liberalisation at its best, of reforms which have unleashed the country’s vast economic potential.

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