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When Bush met his close friend, PM Singh

By Renu Mittal
Last updated on: October 31, 2009 16:44 IST
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It was more of a reunion of two old friends on Friday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wasting no time in hosting his "good friend" George W Bush to a sumptuous Indian lunch of prawns, mutton korma, fish curry, lamb chops and a host of other delicacies at his residence 7, Race Course Road.

Former US President George Bush arrived in Delhi on Thursday night to address the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday.

The camaraderie was obvious as the two leaders interacted. Singh thanked Bush for the nuclear deal and thereby enhancing the Indo-US relations, and said he was "very grateful" for his support.

"It happened because of your leadership," replied a smiling Bush.

Even after leaving power Bush and PM Singh's bonhmie seems to have remained intact.

A cheerful-looking Bush cracked jokes through the lunch, some even at himself.

At one point during the conversation he said, "Americans won't believe it, but these days I am reading books!"

The guest list, as is usually the case, was select, restrictive and very powerful.

A senior leader said most of guests were those who had been part of the prime minister's inner coterie during the reign of United Progressive Alliance-I and those who had played a vital role in the success of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Another leader called it a "thank you lunch" with the prime minister rolling out the red carpet to make Bush feel at home.

Interestingly, the Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was not present at the lunch. He addressed the HT summit in the morning session, after the prime minister and soon left for Saudi Arabia.

But it may be recalled that Mukherjee had not been called for the select lunch hosted by the prime minister for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she had visited Delhi earlier this year.

The high-profile lunch included Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, the leader of opposition L K Advani, Union Foreign Minister S M Krishna and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Among officials were the two former foreign secretaries Shyam Saram and Shiv Shankar Menon -- both had played pivotal roles in the nuclear deal. The prime minister's former media advisor Sanjaya Baru and now consulting editor of Business Standard was also invited.

Sanjay Baru and media advisor Harish Khare was also present.

National Security Advisor M K Narayanan was absent in the special lunch as he is in US preparing for Singh's visit to Washington later this month.

The list of guests also included many original movers of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Organisers of the Summit, Shobhana Bhartiya of HT Media Ltd and Sagarika Ghosh of television news channel CNN-IBN had got the PMO's invitation to join the lunch table.

Rahul Gandhi, who left soon after the lunch to address an election rally in Ferozabad, is reported to have had a one-on-one meeting with Bush.

Bush was overheard saying to Sonia Gandhi, "I met your little boy", referring to Rahul.

A senior Congress leader said it was interesting that both Sonia and Rahul were present at the lunch, which comes at a time when China has been pressuring India.

While it is no secret that Dr Singh has been very friendly with Bush, the Gandhis have also been taking pains to signal that they too were fully supportive of the nuclear deal, which was pushed by the prime minister despite resistance from the party.
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Renu Mittal in New Delhi