M A I N   N E W S

PM’s international debut in Thailand
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 20
It may be a coincidence but it is wholly appropriate that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should debut in the international arena at the summit meeting of the Bangladesh India Myanmar Sri Lanka Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to be held in Thailand by July-end.

Known as the father of India’s economic reforms , Dr Singh is credited with opening up the Indian economy when he was Finance Minister in the Narasimha Rao Government. Dr Singh, India’s economist Prime Minister should, therefore, feel at home when he participates in the upcoming summit meeting of BIMSTEC, a regional grouping meant to foster economic and trade relations between the member nations. It will also be his first visit abroad since taking over as Prime Minister.

This will be followed by his participation in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September. This meeting was earlier to be held in February but had to be postponed as the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not attend because of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This was to be the first summit since this group was established in 1997. The regional grouping has, however, held several rounds of ministerial meetings but the summit was meant to give the regional organisation the necessary political impetus.

Meant as a link between South Asia and South East Asia, the coming summit is expected to finalise the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which has been under negotiation among the member countries. Although Dr Singh will essentially take up from where the previous government left off, the new Prime Minister could put his distinctive stamp at this summit given his own expertise in economic issues.

Government sources said the Prime Minister is yet to focus on the proposed summit as it is to be held only by July-end. So far, the new Prime Minister has been busy in exhaustive meetings with the secretaries of all ministries and departments to enable Dr Singh to chart out the UPA Government’s priorities.

In fact, he used these briefing sessions to assess the capabilities of the bureaucrats and it was on the basis of these meetings that he picked Mr B.K. Chaturvedi as Cabinet Secretary. Besides the business of governance, Dr Singh has also to meet the Chief Ministers and Governors of various states who invariably come with a wish list.

The task of preparing the UPA Government’s first budget has been left in the able hands of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram though the two leaders do meet often to discuss concerned issues. Dr Singh is expected to take time off from his hectic schedule to address the nation on television sometime next week which will serve as his first political statement and will also be an occasion to unveil his government’s priorities.

Dr Singh was advised to communicate with the people directly after periodic disruptions by the Opposition in Parliament prevented him from making his speech on the motion of thanks to the President’s address.


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