The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Northeast goes to New York

New York, Sept. 8: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have discreetly decided to stay away from US President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford and during this annual season of summits in the Big Apple, but it is not preventing his government from going into overdrive to woo America.

India is employing a pioneering new strategy in this courtship of the US: it is offering the Northeast to Americans for investment and tourism.

The chief ministers of Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur will all be in New York on the same platform on September 26 to court America.

Also taking part in the same initiative will be the deputy chief minister of Meghalaya, the industry ministers of Assam, Nagaland and Sikkim, and the information technology ministers of Meghalaya and Assam.

In a sense, if any collective decision-making on the Northeast has to be taken within the Indian government during that week, it will be done in New York.

Because the secretary of the Union ministry for the development of the Northeast region, the chief secretaries of Nagaland and Meghalaya, the urban development secretary of Manipur, the agriculture production commissioner of Nagaland and the power secretary of Arunachal Pradesh will all be in New York, too, to lend support to their ministers.

The chief guest at this Northeast India Investment Conference here will be the man who controls the purse strings for the development of the region: Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

On the corporate side, the effort will be anointed by Sunil Bharti Mittal, the president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which has put together the event.

Conspicuously absent from this region-wide initiative is Tripura, which is ruled by the CPM.

Americans are not wasting any time speculating on why no one — neither a civil servant nor a bureaucrat — from Tripura is taking part in this programme.

The northeastern initiative to woo America is part of a four-day spectacular that is planned in New York from September 23 to 26 under the glamorous title of “Incredible India @ 60”.

The four-day event will kick off with the minister for overseas Indian affairs, Vayalar Ravi, acting as master of ceremonies at a mini-Pravasi Bharatiya Divas at the spectacular location of New York’s Chelsea Piers, which are built on four historic piers on the Hudson river waterfront.

Ravi conceived the idea of taking the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, held in India in January every year, to locations abroad as a vehicle for building bridges with overseas Indian communities with the help of CII.

The image of the Northeast in the US is a curious and complex one because of regular reports about insurgencies and territorial disputes. At the same time, there is ample recognition here about the region’s strategic importance.

There are fears that if the Northeast initiative bears fruit in the US, Bengal may come a cropper because the state has dallied with the US without making any commitments on anything.

Unlike the chief ministers from northeastern states, Bengal Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has shied away from visiting the US despite several invitations.

The latest effort to deepen bridges with America through the Northeast will be supplemented by at least seven heavyweight Union cabinet ministers who will arrive in the US in the last 10 days of this month.

However, one visit being watched here with intense interest is that of R. Chidambaram, nuclear scientist and principal scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, who will be in Washington from September 26 to 28.

Chidambaram will be accompanied by Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, former Indian ambassador to China, and Prodipto Ghosh, former secretary to the ministry of environment and forests.

They will be joined by foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee on September 27 for a climate change conference, which is being hosted at the US state department by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Whether the Left parties like it or not, when a former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and former secretary to the department of atomic energy — who is still in the Prime Minister’s Office — and the foreign minister meet Rice, it is inevitable that the future of the Indo-US nuclear deal will be on top of their agenda.

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