What is Sarah Palin doing in India?
What is Sarah Palin doing in India? The former vice-presidential nominee and Alaska governor is famously travel-shy and a largely unknown entity in the subcontinent.
Though her reality Alaska TV show premiered this month (aired on Monday nights) it doesn't appear to have been a hit with audiences addled on political scandals, cricket and soap. People are not even sure what Ms Palin knows about and thinks of India. "I am very excited to visit India," she has been quoted as saying in what appears to be her only observations on the country so far. "Americans have a great respect for the world's largest democracy."
Ms Palin, who arrives in India barely three months after President Obama's high-octane visit, is a key speaker at a glittering annual conclave organised by India Today Group, a large media conglomerate. She shares this widely-attended mega-talkfest with such speakers as Germaine Greer and Fatima Bhutto, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Niall Ferguson and Mohammed ElBaradei.
The theme of the conclave is "the changing balance of power". India Today owner-editor Aroon Purie believes America's supremacy is being challenged. "A feisty former vice-presidential nominee from America," said Mr Purie, while opening the conclave, "who will be our gala night speaker [on Saturday] will surely disagree with this."
Clearly, there are high expectations of Ms Palin, who will speak about her vision of America.
Whether or not Ms Palin knows much about India, few Indians know what she stands for. On a frenzied Internet debate on the conclave site, a woman participant says it would be "interesting" to have a woman in the White House "after a black president". She is promptly admonished by another respondent - gender unclear - who writes: "Shaking my head at the naive casual support thrown by a woman to a woman who does not support rights of women such as the right to her own body." Please "familiarise yourself with Sarah Palin [and] her political views," implores the writer.
But to put Ms Palin's appearance at a private Indian conclave down to a sizeable fee - the organisers are reported to have paid thousands of dollars to marquee speakers such as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Pervez Musharraf in the past - and a paid holiday, might be unfair.
Indian commentator Pranay Gupte, who describes the conclave as the "biggest private-sector megaphone in the world's largest democracy", says Ms Palin's journey to India is an important one: she will be able to discover how politics works in the subcontinent, seek to deepen her "geopolitical education" about South Asia, experience the "colours" of India and hear from Indians their concerns about China's rise.
The media coverage of Ms Palin's visit has so far been subdued, though one expects things will heat up over the weekend, when she makes her appearance.
The Times of India wonders whether the trip is a build-up to a White House bid in 2012. Others back home take the opposite view. A blog in The New Hampshire Union Leader, the leading newspaper in a state that hold's the US's first primary, speculates that Ms Palin's visit means that she is not interested in contesting the elections. The blogger Andrew Cline writes he finds it difficult to believe that "someone who makes a trip to India a higher priority than a trip of New Hampshire is a serious presidential candidate". So, he writes, "chalk this up as one more bit of evidence that she's probably not running". A Huffington Post cartoon is acerbic - one of the characters in it says that Ms Palin is going to India "probably because she can't see it from her house in Alaska" (a reference to an ABC interview in 2008, when she talked about Russia being visible from an Alaskan island).
But what is quite certain is that Ms Palin will be well received. As a rank newcomer, she has novelty value with the audiences. Also, as analysts like Gupte say, India loves women leaders - India's most powerful leader is Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party chief and daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, the country's most powerful prime minister ever. Indians also have traditionally loved Republicans. So while Ms Palin's journey to India may never be fully explained - unless she comes clean to the Delhi glitterati in audience on Saturday night - it will possibly end up provoking a lot of interest. To mop up that kind of attention in the world's largest democracy cannot be a bad thing for any aspiring US presidential candidate.