President Barack Obama’s decision to avoid the Waldorf Astoria during this year’s United Nations General Assembly Session has put a question mark on where Prime Minister Narendra Modi will stay during the New York leg of his US trip. Obama’s decision, apparently for fear of being spied on, has woken New Delhi to the same set of jitters, so much so that a final call on Modi’s New York stay has yet to be taken.
Modi arrives in New York on September 23 and will be in town till September 26, when he leaves for Silicon Valley, returning on September 28 on the way back home.
Indian PMs have traditionally stayed at the New York Palace Hotel when in town for UN sessions; Modi stuck to precedent last year when he addressed the General Assembly. Obama and the Pakistan PM had then stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. Things seem to have changed after China’s Anbang Insurance Group bought the landmark luxury hotel in late 2014.
Sources say an advance team of security and other officials had conducted a recce of both the Waldorf Astoria and New York Palace hotel, and “various factors are being taken into account” before taking a final call.
“The PM had a pleasant stay at the New York Palace Hotel last year. This year we are actively considering Astoria too for his stay but a final decision is yet to be made,” a source said.
That’s not what the Permanent Mission of India (PMI) to the UN, which handles stays for visiting dignitaries from India, including the PM, was saying till late Friday. The PMI had already let everyone know Modi would stay at the Waldorf Astoria and that’s where the media centre would be.
India has in the past raised concerns about Chinese spying, keeping a strict eye on Chinese telecom imports even at the cost of raising tensions on the trade front. Hindustan Times contacted several sources; all acknowledged the fear of bugging when heads of state or government stay in a foreign country. “This issue (bugging) is something everyone looks at when the Prime Minister travels abroad,” said a source.
Other factors need to be taken into account too. “If Obama is staying at New York Palace, the security detail there will be unprecedented,” said one source. Officials familiar with such visits say arrangements typically begin weeks and months in advance and a decision is rarely, if ever, left open till this late hour, especially for the UNGA when leaders and delegations descend upon New York city from all over the world.
(Inputs from HTC, New York)