M A I N   N E W S

Make India investment destination, PM tells NRIs
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

Bangkok, July 29
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today exhorted overseas Indians to have a re-look at India as an investment destination and asserted that emergence of India as a global powerhouse had come.

Dr Manmohan Singh, who arrived here this evening for the first summit meeting of BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan Economic Cooperation), said at a reception hosted by the Indian Ambassador here that his government was committed and determined to building “a new India, free from want and exploitation”.

“We have the will and the determination to make sacrifices and do difficult things to bring prosperity for you,” the Prime Minister said at the reception where scores of leading lights from among the 100,000-strong Indian community in Thailand were present. Significantly, half of the one lakh Indians here are Punjabis, comprising 35,000 Sikhs.

The Prime Minister also promised to build “a new India” and make available “new frontiers of hope” to all those who wanted to do business with India or invest in India.

“We want to build an India of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi, an India which is like a house open from all sides; a new India which is resilient enough not to be blown away by forces from outside,” the Prime Minister said.

Dr Manmohan Singh called for “a new partnership” with overseas Indians and assured all non-resident Indians and people of Indian origin that if there were any problems or difficulties “viable and practical” solutions would be found.

This is Dr Manmohan Singh’s first foreign visit as Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister seemed to be in a very enthusiastic and positive mood as he spoke extempore for about 20 minutes. He said distances had lost their old meanings and underlined the need for converting “inter-dependence” into “thriving partnerships”.

He said BIMSTEC was a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia and expressed the hope that the BIMSTEC Summit would impart a new element of dynamism to move into areas of greater and greater cooperation among countries around the Bay of Bengal.

Earlier, the Prime Minister had an interaction with journalists accompanying him on board a special aircraft wherein he said that his government would have a re-look at several Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) India is pursuing with a host of countries and regions.

In response to a specific question from this correspondent as to how much the proposed FTAs would be relevant considering that most of these FTAs would be fully implemented 11 to 13 years hence, the PM said his government would look again at these and adopt “a realistic approach”.

On the question of terrorism and the possibility of his raising the issue when he holds bilateral meetings with leaders of other BIMSTEC countries on the margins of the summit, the PM said terrorism was a global problem and this will come up for discussion.



When Sonia Gandhi ‘defied’ PM
Rajeev Sharma

Bangkok, July 29
It was an open act of defiance which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not grudge. Rather he was overwhelmed.

The PM had yesterday directed his ministerial colleagues not to bother themselves to see him off for his first foreign trip. But Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi put her foot down and said she as well as the PM's entire ministerial team would see him off.

The Prime Minister's instructions to his ministerial colleagues not to see him off was borne out of larger interest of the people as he did not want any traffic haul-ups and inconvenience to the masses.

Ms Gandhi devised a way out. The venue of bidding farewell to the PM was shifted.

The Prime Minister went by car from his 7, Race Course Residence in New Delhi to Safdarjung Airport (probably a political signal to the Left) and from there flew in a helicopter to Indira Gandhi International Airport to catch Air India One special flight.

The entire Council of Ministers and Ms Sonia Gandhi were present at Safdarjung Airport to see off the PM.

Where is my ticket?

“Where is my ticket?” "What about my foreign exchange?"

The Prime Minister's aide was flabbergasted to hear these questions from none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself today.

The aide had to tell the PM that he did not need any ticket as he was to travel by a special aircraft and Air India was running the flight "Tanjore" for him only.

But the PM did not yield so soon on his other question about foreign exchange. He was asked what for he required the foreign exchange as everything was free for him.

He said probably his wife would require some local currency to tip off the waiters and other staff.

He said whatever daily allowance senior officials get, he should be given. The PM was told that it was 50 US dollars for senior officials per day but when the meals were free this allowance was much less.

The PM remained unflinching in his quest for foreign exchange and was given some, the exact amount PMO officials did not give.

Bandgala coat for PM

Officials at the Prime Minister's Office frantically looked for a tailor on July 27.

The reason: the PM had discovered just then that he did not have a bandgala coat which he had to wear at ceremonial occasions during his first foreign trip to Thailand.

A tailor was contacted in a jiffy and the bandgala was stitched for him in double quick time which he wore today at the reception hosted by the Indian Ambassador here.



Govt willing to hold talks with Hurriyat: PM
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 29
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said efforts were on to secure the release of three Indian hostages in Iraq and that the UPA government was "willing" to hold talks with all shades of public opinion, including the Hurriyat Conference, in Jammu and Kashmir.

"All-out efforts are on and I am hopeful that they will succeed," Dr Singh told newspersons replying to a question on the hostage crisis before embarking on his three-day visit to Bangkok to participate in the BIMST-EC summit.

On the continuation of the dialogue process with the Hurriyat Conference initiated by the previous NDA government, the Prime Minister said: "We have repeatedly said we are willing to talk to all groups, various shades of public opinion in Jammu and Kashmir."

To a question whether the issue of his directly holding talks with the Hurriyat leadership figured during this meeting with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed earlier this week, Dr Singh said "There was no discussion of that sort."

The Prime Minister refused to take any political question and react on the Opposition boycott of the Parliamentary Committee.

In his departure statement, Dr Singh hoped that the three-day conference would give a political thrust to regional cooperation.

"This is the first BIMST-EC summit. It will give political thrust and political direction to the ongoing process of strengthening regional cooperation among the countries," he said.

Dr Singh said he was going to Bangkok to give a fresh impetus to the BIMST-EC, where he would be meeting leaders from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Observing that BIMST-EC acted as a bridge of mutual understanding and cooperation between South and South East Asia, the Prime Minister said the development imperatives of the North Eastern region were also an important element of New Delhi's approach to BIMST-EC.

Meanwhile, despite Prime Minister's insistence yesterday that his Cabinet colleagues need not come to the airport to see him off, in a last minute change of plans, Dr Singh was seen off by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and several of his ministerial colleagues.


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