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Indian Prime Minister Declines Invitation

By Joshua P. Rogers, Crimson Staff Writer

Contrary to recent reports in the Indian press, Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, will not be speaking at Harvard this September, according to Harvard University Marshal Jackie O’Neill.

The Indian Express wrote last week that, following a phone call from University President Lawrence H. Summers, Singh accepted Lamont University Professor Amartya Sen’s invitation to speak at the University.

O’Neill confirmed this week that Sen had extended an invitation to Singh, and that Summers had hoped the prime minister would be able to speak at Harvard in between engagements on a New York visit next month. But that’s where the similarities to the Express’ story end.

To begin with, O’Neill said Singh had turned down the opportunity to speak at Harvard.

O’Neill also took issue with the Express’ account of a phone conversation between Singh and his “long-time friend, Larry Summers.” According to O’Neill, Summers did not take the unusual step of phoning Singh directly; instead, she said, Summers followed the policy for inviting heads of state by writing a letter to the prime minister.

Summers declined to comment, and Sen did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

The same article in the Indian Express also reported that India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had advised Singh not to speak at Harvard. Recounting colorful bits of supposed dialogue between the prime minister and his advisers, the article reported that the MEA cited timing conflicts with bilateral negotiation appointments.

The article also claimed that MEA advisers had warned that meeting with Summers, who was Treasury Secretary in Bill Clinton’s Democratic administration, could jeopardize relations with the current Republican White House.

“But Larry is a friend of mine!” the article quoted Singh as replying “at least a little plaintively.”

O’Neill said the University was not aware of the reason Singh declined the invitation.

No spokespeople for Prime Minister Singh or the MEA could be reached for comment.

The Indo-Asian News Service also reported last week that Singh would speak at Harvard.

“The Prime Minister has received an invitation from the president of Harvard University and I think he has accepted,” the service quoted Singh’s media adviser as having said.

The same article reported that Singh will be in the United States in order to make a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23.

—Staff writer Joshua P. Rogers can be reached at jprogers@fas.harvard.edu.

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