The Modi government and Obama administration are working to explore whether the US President can find time to visit Varanasi during his visit here next month.
Sources in the government said the Modi goverment is keen that a quick visit to Varanasi is squeezed into the schedule of the US President who will be the chief guest on the Republic Day.
Although the Obama administration seems to reciprocate the sentiment, the two sides are struggling to create room for the US president to travel to PM’s Lok Sabha constituency because of his ‘ tight schedule’ and logistical constraints.
Prime Minister Modi pulled off a big diplomatic coup when he persuaded Obama to be the chief guest on January 26.
Sources said the government’s keenness to take the US president to Varanasi reflects the PM’s view that engagements with foreign partners, existing as well as potential, need not remain a ‘ Delhi-centric affair’ and go beyond deliberations between foreign ministry bureaucrats.
The two governments have to negotiate many hurdles to make Obama’s Varanasi visit possible. Apart from the heavy official business which will include a state banquet hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee, they are also having to contend with the fact that Varanasi airport may be a tad small for the US president’s Airforce One, as well as the city’s congested topography.
Visiting foreign leaders have often ventured beyond New Delhi. The allure of Taj Mahal continues to bring visiting leaders to Agra, while Bangalore and Hyderabad have been increasingly figuring on the itineraries because of their freshly- found reputation as IT hubs. Visits to Mumbai and tours to industrial plants set up with joint collaboration as well ‘ model villages’ have also been part of the tour package.
However, Modi wants to make the process of diversifying diplomatic engagements a regular affair. This was why Chinese President Xi Jinping started his trip from Ahmedabad.
Sources said the PM was also keen that Russian President V Putin visited the nuclear plant at Kudankulam which has been built in collaboration with Russia. Putin was on board but the plan had to be dropped because of worries back home and a technical fault in the plant in Tamil Nadu.