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Dr Singh wows Congress
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Impressions: Nikhil Lakshman in Washington, DC. Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

I couldn't believe I was in the same room as Ted Kennedy, the legendary United States Senator from Massachusetts, whose volume of legislation dwarfs anything his brothers John and Bobby did for the American people.

Some of America's leading politicians had gathered to hear Dr Manmohan Singh in Congress on Tuesday. There was Bill Frist, the cardiac surgeon who is now the Senate Majority leader and a likely Republican candidate for the presidency in 2008. There were veteran Senators like Richard Lugar and Sam Brownback, whose influence on American defence and nuclear policy is immense. Of course, there was Hillary Clinton, the best known politician in America and possibly the Democratic nominee for President in 2008. Across the aisle from Hillary sat Barack Obama, the only coloured man in the Senate and a charismatic politician widely spoken of as America's first black President.

The hall may have only been partially full with Congressmen and Senators - Congressional aides, interns (one of who, Himani Shah, an intern with Congressman Joe Crowley wore a sari!) and pages (teenagers who ferry material from one office to another) made up the rest of the audience -- but one media veteran said the turnout of lawmakers was better than when Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed Congress in September 2000.

I wish the prime minister's advisers had briefed him well about the who's who in Congress. Dr Singh came in, accompanied by friends of India like Frank Pallone, Crowley and, of course, Bobby Jindal (the first Indian-American to be elected to Congress in 50 years), shook hands with Hillary and Senators who were seated in the front row, but ignored Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama, who were based in the second row.

If the intention of Dr Singh's address was to win more friends in Congress -- especially when India needs all the support it can get on the nuclear deal -- then the prime minister perhaps needed to make a little more effort than deliver a fine speech. I have seen Hamid Karzai, the young Afghan president, shake hands with as many lawmakers as he could after he addressed Congress in early 2002. Congressmen and Senators are just like the rest of us - they are awed by and love celebrity.

Many American politicos -- who understand India and geopolitics -- think Dr Singh is a rock star for his work on modernising India (a couple of them like Anthony Weiner, the Congressman from New York, sought his autograph on Tuesday morning). Just a little extra effort -- acknowledging as many lawmakers as he could, possibly by name ("Good to see you Senator Kennedy," "Hullo Senator Brownback") could have won the premier more brownie points.

Impressions: Nikhil Lakshman in Washington, DC. Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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