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'There Is Overlap, But No Conflict'

With his status as ambassador-at-large for non-resident Indians (NRIs) and People of Indian Origin (PIO) mired in controversy, Bhishma K. Agnihotri sat down to clear the air with Outlook. Excerpts:

'There Is Overlap, But No Conflict'
'There Is Overlap, But No Conflict'
How do you explain the controversy dogging you ever since Vajpayee announced his intention to appoint you ambassador-at-large for NRIs?
My position has two components—ambassador-at-large for NRIs and PIOs globally, and advisor to the Indian embassy in Washington. For the second role, the Indian embassy requested diplomatic accreditation for me. But the state department had reservations because they expect diplomats to be stationed in Washington.

Has the refusal of accreditation hampered your work? Don't you need clearance from the justice department if you are lobbying for a foreign government?
It has not affected my functioning. And no, I am not lobbying for anyone. That's not my job. I'm just working with NRIs. As for the state department's objection to my place of residence (New York), I could live anywhere. As part of my job, I have to travel all over the world. I could live in California, Trinidad or even New Delhi. If I have to be part of the (Indian) embassy in Washington, I can live in Washington. But this is required only if I want accreditation, and that is a decision for the government of India to take and not one for me to worry about. Accreditation gives me diplomatic immunity, that's all.

Is your green card more important to you than your new post?
Green card is small stuff. You surrender it and can then get it back. These things can be worked out. And the US government can give a waiver to this rule (to surrender the green card if lobbying for a foreign government) under special circumstances. There are allegations that I tried to seek a waiver from the White House. I didn't.

Do you feel your post has made the job of consuls-general redundant?
We work as a team all over the world. I work with all the missions and ambassadors. There is no conflict. There might be an overlap but it's a healthy one. The more the merrier! But there is definitely no overlap as far as bilateral issues are concerned.

Are you upset at the obvious lack of groundwork by the external affairs ministry and the Indian embassy in Washington in preparing for your appointment?
I am not at all embarrassed about anything. I'm just doing my job. These things don't bother me. I'm not privy to other things. It's very petty stuff.

What sort of relationship do you share with Lalit Mansingh?
Mansingh is a nice guy. We are complementary to each other. We are both grown-ups and we know what our roles are. Sometimes the press makes too much of it (the perceived rift between the two). The PM's faith in me has not wavered. That's all that matters. So far as I'm concerned, my association with the PM gives me the access I require to do justice to my job. This has also helped me cut down on some of the bureaucratic obstacles.
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