- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

NAYLA, India An impoverished village spent thousands of dollars preparing for an expected visit by President Clinton Thursday, only to be told the president would instead visit a village closer to his luxury hotel.

But Mr. Clinton still wanted a photo opportunity with women from the first village, Dhoblai, because they run a milk cooperative that uses a computerized milk-testing machine. Mr. Clinton figured he could highlight two of his favorite themes: empowering women and promoting high technology.

So the milkmaids were asked to travel here, to the village of Nayla, and bring their high-tech machine with them.

The result was a public relations triumph for Mr. Clinton, who laughed and danced with a dozen veiled women as they showered him with flower petals Thursday. Footage of the frolicking was beamed around the globe and shown on newscasts every hour.

But behind the scenes, Mr. Clinton's shifting itinerary left a trail of broken promises and hurt feelings, the milkmaids said.

While site selection is a small matter for the president, who delegates such decisions to underlings, it is a major issue for rural Indians who want to get their village on the map and perhaps even snag some of the economic benefits that a presidential visit brings.

The saga of the presidential milkmaids began in January, when officials from the U.S. Embassy attended India Expo 2000 in New Delhi. There they saw uneducated village women demonstrating a sophisticated machine that gauged the fat content of milk, measured its volume and priced the container accordingly.

The Americans decided this would make a perfect photo opportunity for Mr. Clinton's forthcoming visit to India.

After visiting Dhoblai to verify the authenticity of the milk cooperative and its use of cutting-edge technology, the U.S. team told this obscure village of 2,000 people that they would soon be receiving a visit from Mr. Clinton, several milkmaids said.

Although money is scarce in the village average daily income in India is $1.25 per person the ecstatic villagers immediately started an ambitious face lift for Dhoblai.

"We spent a lot of money on drainage, maintenance and painting of buildings on the main road," said Santosh Sharma, secretary of the milk cooperative. "Several thousand dollars."

Each time the Americans returned to Dhoblai to plan for the president's visit, the villagers grew more confident that their money was being well spent.

"They kept telling us he would be visiting Dhoblai," said Kanta Goswami, chairwoman of the milk cooperative. "The king of the world would come to Dhoblai village itself. We would demonstrate to him our technology and our empowerment of women. It would be a very happy moment for the whole village."

But while the villagers were sprucing up Dhoblai, U.S. officials began to eye Nayla, which is just 10 miles from the hotel that would house the president. Dhoblai is 34 miles away.

"A team of 35 officers came here to Nayla on the third of March and said the president cannot go to Dhoblai," said M.M. Bhardwaj, director of the government agency that developed the milk machine. "So they said you bring your equipment here and bring those ladies here, where he can see how the machines are used."

It would be the second time this week that South Asia villagers who expected a presidential visit came away disappointed.

On Monday, Mr. Clinton skipped a planned visit to a Bangladesh village after the Secret Service learned of a possible terrorist threat against the president. In that case also, the villagers ended up coming to Mr. Clinton in another town.

The Dhoblai milkmaids also agreed to come to the president, although this entailed hardship.

They would have to make the 68-mile round trip over poor roads many times in order to properly prepare for Mr. Clinton's appearance. And the trips were time-consuming, forcing them to neglect their domestic duties back home, they said.

"They were reluctant to come to this place because there is a problem of transferring the equipment and transporting the women here from the village every day," said Himmat Singh, director of the Jaipur Dairy, which oversees milk collection in this region. "They've been visiting Nayla quite often, securing milk and testing it here."

To complicate matters, Nayla already had its own milk cooperative, which was dominated by men. That ran counter to the president's message of the day female empowerment.

"This village has got a mixed-gender dairy cooperative," explained P.K. Satsangi, assistant manager of the Jaipur Dairy. "It does not have an all-women dairy cooperative."

Mr. Singh said the milkmen "were not asked to come" to Thursday's presidential appearance.

"The program was for women," he explained.

So on the day when the president visited Nayla to laud a milk cooperative, the members of the Nayla milk cooperative were not allowed to be present.

"They're feeling jealous that their cooperative is not being shown to the president, but the women's cooperative is being shown," Mrs. Sharma said. "It's a natural reaction."

Those who observed Thursday's visit came away with the impression that milk in Nayla is computer-tested. But after Mr. Clinton departed, the device was promptly unplugged.

"This machine is going back to Dhoblai," Mr. Satsangi said.

Still, the visit was not without long-term benefits for Nayla.

"The government of India has already set up one Internet system here, because of the president's visit, that will stay permanently," said Mr. Bhardwaj, adding that a Nayla resident has been hired to run the system.

No such benefits accrued to Dhoblai, which was left doing a slow burn over its expensive paint job.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewert said the president never promised to go to Dhoblai. In fact, he said White House aides were never told Mr. Clinton was going anywhere but Nayla.

U.S. and Indian officials said advance teams routinely scout several locations before settling on one for the president to visit. They said it is inevitable that feelings get hurt and suggested that overly eager villagers might hear promises where there are none.

Others pointed out that Thursday's event in Nayla ended up featuring a wide array of women's issues, not just the milk cooperative. For example, Mr. Clinton discussed Indian politics with the assembled women.

But Mrs. Goswami and Mrs. Sharma insisted they were promised the president would visit Dhoblai.

"It would have been a much happier event if he would have showed up at Dhoblai itself, because our accomplishment was a result of the labors of all villagers, including the men," Mrs. Sharma said. "We were all very disappointed to be informed he would not be coming."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide