SHYAM BHATIA | 18 JUNE, 2019
Sarna, Diplomat and Author, Offers Insights Into the Working of the White House
Former Ambassador to the US
LONDON: As the world waits to see if Donald Trump will engage in fresh military action in the Gulf, one of the participants in the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) in London has offered a unique insight into US policy making and the working of the White House.
Literary festivals are usually occasions for get-togethers of writers and their supporters and admirers, but because such events may attract past and present decision makers, they also provide opportunities for sharpening awareness of current affairs issues and international crises.
Published author Navtej Sarna, who recently stepped down as India’s ambassador to the United States, was accordingly able to share his perceptions of the Trump team and what the Trump administration has meant for Indians visiting the US.
Sarna has no insights about whether military action is likely in the Gulf following the recent attacks on oil tankers using the strategic waterway, but he had plenty to say about his own experiences of living and working in the US capital.
“The two pet themes of President Trump have been trade and immigration and with immigration certainly things have hardened up”, Sarna told The Citizen. “As far as Indians are concerned, there is a concern that the H1B process harden up and so far it has been tightened up.
“Some other things have changed. For instance the H4 visa which was an administrative arrangement made under President Obama for allowing spouses of H1B visa holders to work, that’s been taken away. There’s been some tightening of student visas, all this is not surprising to anybody who followed the Trump narrative during the (election) campaign.”
Sarna, who arrived in Washington DC approximately 72 hours before Trump’s election, said he had two or three quick face-to-face unscheduled meetings with the President-elect during the inaugural days, also worked closely with the White House during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June 2017.
“It was quite an experience arranging that and executing that and being part of it”, Sarna said.
The former ambassador said that although India’s economic success has attracted bipartisan support, including support from US industry, his interaction with the White House was a ‘moving picture’ with key advisers arriving and leaving in quick succession.
“It was very difficult to deal with because you established relationships and then people left, new people came in. For instance I actually met three National Security Advisers during my time and three Deputy National Security advisers. So that doesn’t make it easy for interlocutors.
“During his campaign President Trump had very much said he ‘would like to clear the swamp’ as he called it. So there was that about the White House that I dealt with.”
Among Sarna’s treasured memories are his invitation to a Diwali celebration at the White house, attended by key Indian-origin bureaucrats, where there was a lighting of the ‘diya’. “It was not a reception, it was a unique Diwali celebration”, Sarna explained.
“Then after a gap of 16 years we did a reception for governors of the US. We had 27 governors at one go and under one roof at the ambassador’s house. So that was also a memorable day.”
In London Sarna has been moderating a book discussion about Guru Nanak and a separate session on Jallianwalla Bagh. As well as a separate session about the writing of short stories.
“My own new novel is very much in the pipeline”, he told The Citizen. “It has to do with Jallianwalla Bagh"