The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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There is nothing official about it. That is the pronouncement of the Union ministry of external affairs on the proposed trip to the United States of America by the chief minister of Rajasthan, Mr Ashok Gehlot, and his 14-member delegation. Invited as chief guest by the first international conclave of the Rajasthani Association of North America, Mr Gehlot had evidently planned to use this goodwill visit as an opportunity to attract foreign investment to Rajasthan, not only in industry, but also in social sectors such as health and education. But the Centre has refused to accord this trip official status, since the Rajasthani conclave is a private affair, and not held under the aegis of the US government. This is, all said and done, not a very comprehensible argument, and precedents of such refusals — in the earlier cases of Mr Digvijay Singh, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, and Ms Sheila Dixit, the chief minister of Delhi — do not necessarily add substance to the logic. Besides, the expenses are being borne by the hosts and by the state government, which is a partner in arranging the event. According to reports, official status given to Mr Gehlot’s visit would have added little more than metaphysical weight.

If the Centre’s refusal is a result of an old and constricting rule, it is high time that anachronistic regulations were overhauled. When the mantra radiating from the Centre is foreign investment, enterprising chief ministers should be given all the support that the Union government can give. The West Bengal chief minister’s recent trip to Italy, which he undertook with his own delegation of businessmen, is being touted for the moment as a great success. The same is being said of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s rather longer tour, in which sight-seeing figured almost as much as investment-hunting. Her trip was hardly unofficial, and she was invited to speak at the annual meeting of the US-India business council. But the official veneer did not prevent her from visiting Canada, where she and her team went to visit the Niagara Falls from Toronto and also made efforts to allure possible investors from Ontario. No doubt official approval for a trip has its advantages. Perhaps Mr Gehlot feels he is demanding merely an acknowledgment of the weight due to a state’s chief minister, since the purpose of his trip is not private celebration but benefits for his state. Given the importance accorded to non-resident Indians and their enormous potential as investors and investment-bringers, his request that his trip be given the official stamp is not unreasonable. It is the Centre’s refusal that is enigmatic.

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