India grits its teeth as Jade prepares to jet in

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The Independent Online

The Indian government seemed to be having second thoughts yesterday over whether it was such a good idea inviting Jade Goody to visit the country after the Celebrity Big Brother participant made the surprise announcement that she intended to take up the offer.

In London, the Indian high commission was reportedly dragging its heels over her application for a visa. And, in Delhi, the Indian press reported that the government was furious she had ever been invited.

The invitation dates from the height of the row over alleged racism in Big Brother, when the Indian tourism office published a full page advertisement in several newspapers. In the form of an open letter to Ms Goody, it read: "Once your current commitments are over, may we invite you to experience the healing nature of India. We look forward to welcoming you soon."

At the time, it seemed that India had seized upon a brilliant opportunity to promote its tourist industry. But it looks as if the move may have backfired after Ms Goody announced on television she was planning to take up the offer.

"I'm thinking of going over there because I've been invited," she told Five, saying the invitation had come from some 'high-up people'. Sources close to her have been quoted as saying she wants to come to apologise personally.

But the word in Delhi yesterday was that the government was none too happy at the idea of her imminent arrival - fearing it could be seen to be rolling out the red carpet for a woman whose only claim to fame here is her alleged racist abuse of a popular Indian movie star.

"Suddenly, we have elevated Goody to the status of an official guest," the Indian Express quoted one source as spluttering, adding that the decision to publish the open invitation had been "immature".

But there appear to be practical concerns as well as the potential for red faces in Indian government circles. "What do we do if she evokes protests here, who takes care of her security?" an unnamed source asked the newspaper.

Although Ms Goody would be unrecognisable to the vast majority of Indians, there are real grounds for concern. Effigies of the programme's producers were burnt in the eastern city of Patna at the height of the controversy, and any visit by Ms Goody could easily be seized on by a local political group for its own ends.

The India cricket coach, Greg Chappell, managed to escape unhurt after he was attacked this week by a fringe political activist whose main motivation appeared to be publicity, and who managed to break through Mr Chappell's police protection.

While Ms Goody's application for an Indian visa is reportedly taking longer than the usual 24 hours, in Delhi the Tourism Ministry is making it clear Ms Goody has not been invited as an official guest.

"Any free citizen can apply for a visa to visit India. That is all," said a ministry spokesman. "There will not be any preference for Jade Goody."

Meanwhile it appears those behind the full-page advertisement inviting Ms Goody to India may be in for the high jump.

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