At the most lavish event of her South Asian journey, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton surveyed her palace dinner guests earlier this week from a raised, white marble pavilion that once served as the emperor’s public audience hall.
In the Mogul emperor’s day, she’d have been peeking at the scene from behind a marble screen at the rear of the pavilion with the other women, barred from participating in the men’s festivities.
And while women have made progress in the 370 years since the Mogul royalty reigned at the Red Fort in Lahore, Pakistan, Clinton - who has been both vilified and admired for her role as a nontraditional first lady - has reverted to the most traditional of first lady vocations on her five-nation tour of the subcontinent.
She has toured schools, health clinics and an orphanage. She has been the guest of honor at innumerable teas, luncheons and receptions. She has met with women whose positions in life range from leader to student to ragpicker. She has shopped, played tourist and goodwill ambassador and, today, will ride an elephant into a Himalayan wildlife park.
But she has avoided any semblance of controversy and has declined to engage in discussion of substantive issues beyond women’s and children’s agendas.
“For someone billed as one of the most able and sensitized minds of the American administration, Ms. Clinton was singularly insensate and solely decorative today,” the Calcutta Telegraph wrote this week.
“She did speak a few sentences at Prayas (school). … But it could just as well have been Lady Diana, Jane Fonda or (Miss World) Aishwarya Rai speaking.”
‘It’s marvelous how people working together can help each other,’ she bubbled. ‘I’m happy to be in your ancient and exciting country,’ she gushed. ‘Children are the most important resource of any family, community or country,’ she prosed.”Clinton, who has made two sub stantive speeches and given no interviews to the local media during the first week of her tour, defended her agenda in New Delhi this week.
“I recognize that discussion of such problems as education and health care for girls and women is viewed by some as ‘soft,’ labeled dismissively as a women’s issue belonging, at best, on the edge of serious debate,” Clinton said.
“I want to argue strongly, however, that the questions surrounding social development, especially women … are at the center of our political and economic challenges.”