The way the government handled the USS Nimitz’s arrival in Chennai amid protests from a section of the Opposition and the Left said a lot about pursuing a foreign policy issue on which national consensus has proved elusive.
The government’s prime objective was to keep in check the controversy over allowing into Indian waters an American supercarrier stated to be carrying nuclear warheads. It refused to yield to the Left’s demand that the ship, symbolising America’s imperialistic designs, be kept off Indian waters. But at the same time, it advised Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju to turn down the US government’s invitation to spend a night aboard the Nimitz.
The minister, said to be passionate about his portfolio, would have surely jumped at a chance to visit the Nimitz, one of the largest warships in the world. But with ministerial designations come restrictions based on protocol. Raju himself told HT from Hyderabad that he decided against going aboard the Nimitz in deference to political sensitivities.
“But it would have been an unmatched educational experience. I definitely hope to be aboard the Nimitz whenever such an opportunity presents itself again,” he added.
A senior official said South Block did not want to give the impression of openly welcoming the supercarrier — a message that could have gone badly wrong with the minister’s snapshots aboard the carrier that has left so much controversy in its trail that Parliament is bound to debate it in its Monsoon session.
However, the Ministry of Defence recognised the value of its growing strategic ties with the US by not distancing itself entirely from the Nimitz. Several senior air force and navy officers were granted permission to visit the warship. Some MPs were also taken aboard.