Bush's Food Talk Riles India

NEW DELHI -- A remark by U.S. President George W. Bush saying India was partly responsible for rising global food prices has sparked a nationalistic storm, with the defense minister calling it a "cruel joke."

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, India's main opposition party, threatened on Monday to force a parliamentary debate on Bush's remarks that India's middle class was helping push up prices.

The uproar highlighted how quickly latent anti-U.S. nationalism in India could rear its head despite years of diplomatic rapprochement. It also underscored how food price rises are a big electoral issue in India.

"U.S. policies are also responsible for the food grain shortage," Defense Minister A.K. Antony said Sunday, insisting that official encouragement of biofuels in the United States was causing food shortages. He said Bush's remark was a "cruel joke."

"Bush has never been known for his knowledge of economics," said India's junior trade minister, Jairam Ramesh.

Praising developing countries' growing prosperity, Bush said Friday: "There are 350 million people in India who are classified as middle class. ... That's bigger than America ... and when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up."