Sarah Palin's India Trip: Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela Have Made Same Journey

suzi-parker

Suzi Parker

Correspondent
Posted:
03/6/11
The jokes are already flying as Sarah Palin prepares to embark on a trip to India later this month, and more are surely to come. Will she rock a sari? Perhaps guest star in a Bollywood movie? Or bathe in the Ganges for a photo op?

Palin has been invited to give the keynote address, "My Vision of America," at the two-day India Today conclave in New Delhi, an event hosted annually by the magazine since 2002. The March 18-19 event is sponsored by global business heavyweight Aditya Birla Group, a billion-dollar metals company, along with a bevy of industry co-sponsors.

The news came in late February via her cybermessenger, Rebecca Mansour, who tweeted: "Governor Palin will be travelling to India next month." Neither Palin nor Mansour has expounded on the details of trip.

Representatives for India Today did not return e-mails about Palin's trip. India Today is the country's most diversified media group, with interests in magazines, newspaper, television, radio, Internet, books and music.

It is unclear if she is getting paid to appear, but Palin usually charges upwards of $100,000 for such speaking engagements, according to various news accounts.

Palin has traveled outside the United States only a few times since Sen. John McCain chose her as his running mate in 2008. At that point, she had only traveled to the Middle East to visit U.S. troops. Since then, she has given a speech in Hong Kong and visited Haiti alongside Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.

An article by the magazine on the conclave website states: "Her visit to India has generated immense buzz in U.S. political circles over if she will run for president in 2012. Palin is reportedly shy of traveling abroad but her keynote address at the India Today Conclave 2011 is seen as an attempt to articulate foreign policy where she was found wanting in her 2008 bid for V-P, say some experts."

New York Sun columnist Pranay Gupte describes the gathering as the "biggest private-sector megaphone in the world's largest democracy."

Palin will certainly have plush accommodations and the chance to mingle among international intelligentsia.

The event will be at the Taj Palace Hotel New Delhi, which sits on "six acres of lush greens in the exclusive Diplomatic Enclave of the city," and is only 10 minutes from the airport, "well equipped, offering simultaneous translation in five languages."

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will deliver the opening keynote address at the event themed "The Changing Balance of Power." Other speakers include feminist writer Germaine Greer speaking on a panel titled "Can the Burqa Co-Exist With the Bikini?" and Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who gives a dinner keynote on "The New Middle East."

For a governor who served only 31 months in office, Palin is in fairly auspicious company.

In the event's inaugural year, Al Gore spoke, and the next year Bill Clinton appeared. Since then, special guests have included Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Colin Powell, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Afghanistan President H. E. Hamid Karzai, and Hillary Clinton, who spoke when she was senator of New York.

Some Palin critics have said that her trip is a slap in the face to key 2012 states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, and her absence from those venues signals that she is not running for president.

"I know, presidential candidates like to travel abroad to boost their foreign policy credentials. And Palin needs those credentials badly," wrote Andrew Cline, the editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. "But I find it hard to believe that, presumably less than a year from the primary, someone who makes a trip to India a higher priority than a trip to New Hampshire is a serious presidential candidate."

But hold on, say some political watchers, who argue Palin has time to go to India and still be a powerful 2012 player.

Dr. Lara Brown, assistant professor of political science at Villanova University, tells Politics Daily: "The first thing that comes to mind is that she is preparing for a presidential run. Presidential aspirants typically travel internationally before the invisible primary season gets under way."

Brown notes that Nixon was one of the first to do this after losing his 1960 presidential bid against John F. Kennedy and his 1962 loss to Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial race. He traveled to Europe, Japan and Vietnam where he hosted press conferences and met with leaders.

"Foreign travel gives the candidates a broader perspective on the world and allows them to talk in a more informed way about foreign policy," Brown said.

While it is unclear whether Palin lobbied for a spot on the conclave ticket or the group reached out to invite her, India is an interesting choice of country for her to visit. The Obama administration has given keen attention to the South Asia republic. The first White House state dinner the Obamas hosted was in honor of the Indian prime minister and they visited India just three months ago.

It's also a smart trip politically because Indian-Americans have increasing clout in the American political process. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who Palin supported, is the daughter of Indian immigrant parents as is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, also a Republican.

The Indian American Conservative Council (IACC), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that supports conservative, pro-business values, has praised her visit. "It is only fitting that Palin travel to New Delhi since India is an economic partner with the United States, with both nations benefiting from $50 billion in annual trade, along with mutual cooperation in the global war on terrorism," IACC chairman Dino Teppara said in a statement.

Palin could use the conclave platform to counter many of Obama's viewpoints, and she is going into friendly territory. India likes female leaders, such as the powerful Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, the lead party in India's coalition. Gandhi is the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984.

India media reports frequently on Palin and her family. A Google search covering the period from Jan. 1, 2010, to Jan. 1, 2011, turns up 2.4 million hits pairing Sarah Palin and India, most of them from Indian media. Palin's trip to India could be just political curiosity on both her part and the country's movers and shakers. But it could be a diplomatic springboard into the 2012 presidential waters.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how long Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska. She was governor for 31 months, not 18 months.