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Last Updated: May 15, 2007 - 2:05:15 AM
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Goody no official guest, clarifies Indian tourism minister
Jan 25, 2007 - 9:02:21 PM
'The advertisement was for everyone and our country welcomes everyone to enjoy our culture and experience,' said one official who did not want to be named.

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[RxPG] New Delhi, Jan 25 - The Indian government Thursday clarified that the controversial British TV star Jade Goody, accused of hurling racist abuses at Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, would not be an official guest if she visits the country, but could come and 'cleanse' herself.

Goody, who has reportedly approached the Indian high commission in Britain for a visa after the country's tourism office invited her, can visit India 'just like any other tourist', said Tourism Minister Ambika Soni.

'It - was an open invitation. It was asking her to come and see the wellness facilities we have here and that she could come and clear herself of the racist feelings she has,' Soni told reporters here.

Reports suggested that Goody's acceptance of the invitation had put the government in a dilemma over playing host to her after New Delhi officially expressed its displeasure at her racist remarks during the Channel 4 reality TV show 'Celebrity Big Brother'.

But Soni clarified that there was no official invitation for the British TV star.

'We have told her to visit India, visit Kerala and enjoy the facilities we have, which had cleansed even greater racists. So she is just a small fry. She should come here and cleanse herself,' Soni said.

'Anyone is welcome to India. It is up to the high commission to decide whether a tourist should be given visa,' the minister added.

But sources in the tourism ministry said Soni had sought an explanation from the Indian tourism office in London and Ireland for issuing an advertisement inviting Goody to India without consulting her.

'The minister was not at all aware of the advertisement or the invitation. She does not know who asked the UK office to put out such an advertisement,' said an official in the minister's office.

The advertisement in London papers asked Goody, who has since apologised to Shetty for the remarks, to visit the country and experience its healing nature.

Responding with alacrity to the invite, the former dental nurse who has been voted out of the reality show, approached the Indian high commission in London for a visa.

The Indian government is at a loss and doesn't quite know what to do.

'How can the tourism office invite a person against whom our foreign office had expressed disapproval?' asked a senior Congress leader.

'The tourism ministry should have contacted others before making such a move,' he added.

Government officials fear that Goody's arrival could create serious trouble for them.

'Through television channels, everyone in India knows every detail about the controversy. Goody is not a star who will attract welcoming crowds. People will be hostile.

'And since she has accepted the ministry's invitation, we are bound to provide protection to her. How can we do it? She cannot be a state guest? She cannot just come and go unnoticed. The media will not let it happen,' an official said.

Officially, the tourism ministry says that its foreign offices are free to advertise on their own.

'Our offices abroad are free to give advertisements,' said Amitabh Kant, a joint secretary in the tourism ministry.

Although Kant insisted that it would not be proper for him to make any comment on the issue, he said: 'Anybody who can obtain a visa can visit the country.'

Some in the tourism ministry are asking what is the big deal.

'The advertisement was for everyone and our country welcomes everyone to enjoy our culture and experience,' said one official who did not want to be named.

'Why should Jade Goody be given special treatment? We need to ensure the safety of all foreigners who visit our country,' he said.

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