Clinton's Post-White House Visit To India A Far Cry From Last Time

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Former President Clinton arrives in India Tuesday on a low-key humanitarian mission that contrasts sharply to his high-profile visit to the subcontinent last year.

On his first major overseas visit since leaving office, Clinton is scheduled to tour Bhuj, the epicenter of the devastating January 26 earthquake, as well as surrounding areas, and to witness the rehabilitation work.

"Essentially, this is a private visit for the rehabilitation of earthquake victims," the Indian foreign ministry spokesman said.

About 30,000 people were killed and a million rendered homeless when the earthquake, measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale, hit the western state of Gujarat.

Gujarat protocol minister, Bharat Barot, said while it was a private visit, the state government was "overwhelmed" that Clinton was coming, and regarded him as a "state guest."

Clinton will launch the India chapter of the American India Foundation, which has been on a fundraising spree for the quake victims. He serves on the foundation's board.

The eight-day visit will not be entirely low-key, however. Clinton will also be hosted at a dinner to be given by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

But analysts are not attaching much significance to Clinton's meeting with Indian leaders, noting that a day before the dinner, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh will be meeting Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"The fact that New Delhi is so relaxed about the Clinton visit also indicates that we have matured considerably, that we know where the real power lies," commented Rakesh Kumar, a foreign policy analyst with Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Observers give credit, however, to the development of warmer bilateral ties during Clinton's second term, culminating in Clinton's visit last March - the first visit to India by a U.S. president in two decades.

The two countries signed a vision statement aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and economic cooperation.

New Delhi's Maurya Sheraton Hotel, where Clinton stayed last year, is preparing to welcome its high-profile guest, a senior hotel staffer said.

"He may not live at the White House anymore, but he is still the most important guest. His favorite cuisine at the Bukhara restaurant and an absolutely devoted army of hotel employees [are] waiting to meet his needs.

"We have kept everything ready for him - just the way he likes it," the hotelier said, but added that as Clinton was no longer head of state, "the security is nothing compared to last time."

But Delhi police Special Commissioner R.S. Gupta gave his assurances that "everything appropriate" was being done ahead of Clinton's arrival. "It will be as good as our arrangements last year."

On another leg of his visit, Clinton will pay homage to the late Mother Teresa at her Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

"We will give him a warm welcome if he comes. No special arrangements are generally made for VIP guests," said the order's Sister Christie.

"Mother Teresa believed all are equal and children of God. When Lady Diana (the late Princess of Wales) visited Mother Teresa, she too wasn't given any royal treatment."

Hillary Rodham Clinton headed an American delegation attending Mother Teresa's funeral in 1997.