A newly-elected US congressman has caused embarrassment in Washington after mistaking two senior Indian-American officials for foreigners.
Representative Curt Clawson – a Republican Congressman from Florida – was addressing Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia at the US State Department, and Arun Kumar, who works for the US Department of Commerce, during a congressional hearing on Friday.
During a minute-long monologue, Mr Clawson said, “I am familiar with your country. I love your country. I’m hopeful with the new change in regime that the future and the land of promise and the land of opportunity of India can finally become so”.
As Ms Biswal and Mr Kumar – two of the most senior and prominent officials of South Asian extraction in Washington – stared in disbelief, Mr Clawson requested that India become open to more investment from the United States.
“Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcomed there,” he said. “Can I have that?”
There was a moment of silence before Ms Biswal answered.
“I think your question is to the Indian government,” she said. “We certainly share your sentiments and will advocate that on behalf of the U.S. government.”
Realizing his mistake, Mr Clawson said he was merely “asking for their opinion” but it was too late as bloggers and commentators seized on his gaffe.
According to USA Today, the politician has since apologized.
“I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize. I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball,” Clawson told the newspaper.
It’s extremely rare for officials of foreign countries to testify before congressional committees and Mr Clawson had been given information about Ms Biswal and Mr Kumar prior to the hearing with detailed background information.
Nisha Desai Biswal heads the US State Department’s South and Central Asia bureau, which oversees US policy and relations with crucial states such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A graduate of the University of Virginia, Biswal has enjoyed a long and successful career in several important international aid and development organizations, including the American Red Cross, Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Mr Kumar was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service in March 2014.
In his role, Mr Kumar leads the trade and investment promotion efforts for the U.S. Government in key markets around the world.
Their ‘inquisition’ comes as US Secretary of State prepares to visit India, the first visit by a prominent US politician since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May.
“The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners for the 21st Century, and that is, I assure you, the way we approach the Modi government,” Mr Kerry said in a speech to an American think tank in Washington on Monday.
“India’s new government has won a historic mandate to deliver change and reform and, together, we have a singular opportunity to help India to be able to meet that challenge,” he added.