Modi and translation problems dog BJP chief in America
He came hoping to win over America and Indian Americans with his simple ways, but the Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh found himself dogged by controversy ever since his arrival - over Gujarat strongman Narendra Modi and translation problems.
Dressed in his trademark white dhoti kurta with a striped dark blue Nehru jacket, he came to the National Press Club in Washington, just a couple of blocks away from the White House, Wednesday, to explain his mission US to the Indian media over breakfast.
But even as Indian journalists, writing for both Indian and American publications, offered to let him talk in "Hindi or English, whatever you are comfortable with," the first question after the customary introductions inevitably focused on Modi.
Choosing to speak in Hindi with journalists hailing from Bihar to Kerala also making it a point to pose questions in India's national language, he tried hard to dispel the impression that he had "virtually anointed Modi as BJP's prime ministerial candidate" or that he had come to the US to get the Gujarat chief minister a US visa.
Reports that he had projected Modi as such during his first interaction with the media in New York Saturday were just a creation of the media, said Rajnath Singh denying that he had ever suggested that he would take up the issue of denial of US visa to Modi with US lawmakers. "This is a US administration issue, not our issue," he said.
And at times when he spoke about more 'complex' issues like BJP's support for economic reforms or how its foreign policy would be different from the current Congress led government if it came to power, he would touch party spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi on the arm saying "translate".
And sitting on his left, Trivedi dressed in a blue bandhgala would more embellish than translate his chief's answers with examples from former pime mnister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's times to assert that BJP was pro-reform and its foreign policy though not much different would have its own perpective.
But all through Rajnath Singh insisted that he was not here to sell Modi or get him a visa and his mission simply was to build "stronger economic and strategic ties" with the US.
Another object of the mission was to renew and re-establish a connection with the Indian diaspora, said a lingering Overseas Friends of BJP convener Vijay Jolly as an old media friend complained to him in an aside: "Next time bring someone who knows English. This is America!"
One is not privy to how the BJP chief went about his meetings with "US business leaders and policy formulators" at think tanks and lawmakers, but he seemed all at sea at a conference on Afghanistan on the Capitol Hill, seat of US Congress, Tuesday.
Trading his dhoti kurta for a bandhgala and trousers, a stiff-looking, Rajnath Singh read out his keynote address in English in a monotonous flat voice as fellow panellist Ed Royce, Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a packed audience listened with little visible reaction.
And when the time came for questions, the organisers thought it fit to distribute lunch packets even as the BJP chief mumbled short answers to a couple of questions that were hardly audible over the din before he left for a luncheon appointment somewhere else.