Report: Obama caught in India-Pakistan rivalry

DELHI — U.S. President-elect Barack Obama may be making a smooth transition into the White House,Manmohan
but his foray into South Asian politics has been anything but smooth.

Indian officials were miffed that soon after winning the election Obama called 15 world leaders, including Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari, but did not call Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "Zardari but not Dr. Singh?" a baffled government official said. "That's like giving a kiss to the farmer's cat, but not the farmer's daughter."

Sources say that Singh sat beside his phone all day on Nov. 5, hoping to hear from Obama. He finally received a call from America the next day, but unfortunately it was someone offering  him a free cruise to the Caribbean.

Obama tried to rectify his error by calling Singh several days later. The leaders had a friendly chat and their relationship seemed to be on good footing. But behind the scenes, Indian officials expressed their displeasure.  "Mr. Obama spoke to Mr. Zardari for 20 minutes," said another official. "But he spoke to Dr. Singh for only 19 minutes 50 seconds."

Obama apparently failed to time his call and ended it a little too soon. "Ten seconds may not seem like a lot," the official said, "but that would have been enough time for Mr. Obama and Dr. Singh to review the accomplishments of the Bush Administration. They'd even have a few seconds left to discuss outsourcing."

Reached for comment, Obama adviser David Axelrod said the President-elect would make it a point to speak to Dr. Singh 10 seconds longer next time. "The President didn't mean to give Mr. Zardari more time," Axelrod said. "It's just that he can say 'India' a second faster than he says 'Pakistan.'"

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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