No effect of 'Bush fever' on Rashtrapati Bhavan

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New Delhi, Apr 27: Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's five-year tenure at Rashtrapati Bhavan not only transformed the august office, making it more accessible, but the functioning style of the presidential staff as well, raising the level of confidence among them.

During US President George W Bush's visit to India in 2006, the staff refused to change the carpets or allow the American secret service and policemen take over the security at Rashtrapati Bhavan. In his book titled ''The Kalam Effect: My Years With The President,'' Dr Kalam's then secretary P M Nair, in one of the chapters, gives an account of President Bush's visit to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in mid-February 2006. ''I had a call from a very, very important office of the Government. The call was from a very senior officer in that office.

In his polished, bureaucratic way, he sounded me that perhaps the carpets in the corridors of the Rashtrapati Bhavan could be changed. In an equally controlled voice I inquired why. ''The reply came: 'Bush is coming.' I am a patient of hypertension and when tension hits I have no patience. As I respected the caller I simply said, ''No, obviously not. Whatever is good enough in the Rashtrapati Bhavan for other presidents and heads of state should be good enough for the US President too. He rang off,'' says Mr Nair.

He further says that a similar call came from a very senior Ministry of External Affairs functionary, who wanted to inspect the facilities at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

''He said, 'PM, at your convenience let us jointly inspect the facilities in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You know, President Bush is coming.' I know, I said. There is nothing to inspect. This is not the first time a head of state is visiting. Whatever was good last week for that head of state who visited us is good enough for the one who is visiting us next week too. This senior officer with whom I had a perfect equation and understanding did not say a word further,'' adds Mr Nair.

The phones did not ring any further either, at least on this matter, he writes.

Mr Nair further says he had heard that when American presidents came in the past, their secret service and policemen had taken over security even at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and officials there were subjected to their security and surveillance. There was much written about in the press generally about the extraordinary measures they (Americans) took on such visits abroad by their President, he adds.

''All somewhat intimidating. Whatever, but regarding Rashtrapati Bhavan and their role in maintaining security there, this was not acceptable to me. And I told the President (Dr Kalam) about my views the next day. He chucked in response, and that conveyed his confidence and trust in what I proposed. I knew he had approved my approach. That was enough for me.'' ''I made it clear to the intelligence Bureau that as far as the Rashtrapati Bhavan was concerned, the security responsibilities would be entirely that of the Indian police and security agencies and none from other country would be allowed, even to supervise. The only concession that was given was to have just one sniper on top of the building, but hidden and unseen by anyone else. And this we agreed to as a one-off. A similar request had not come from anywhere else before,'' adds Mr Nair.

The banquet was an event in itself. It was preceded by President Bush's formal call on Dr Kalam. The plasma screen once again throbbed into life, much to the amusement and astonishment of President Bush and his wife, Laura.

President Bush expressed his appreciation of the welcome in a handwritten letter to Dr Kalam. Ms Laura Bush wrote to the President too, thanking him for the hospitality.

''The tricolour continued to fly atop the Rashtrapati Bhavan proudly,'' writes Mr Nair.

UNI

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