The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kochi flashes on Pervez match map

Calcutta, March 12: Calcutta has competition to host Pervez Musharraf. Kochi, the venue of the first one-dayer between India and Pakistan on April 2, is also in the reckoning.

The southern city has been shortlisted by the Indian government after two Malayalees in the security and diplomatic establishment suggested the name to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to government sources.

The Prime Minister is learnt to have asked foreign minister Natwar Singh to consider Kochi as the possible venue where Musharraf can watch the match.

So far, the Eden Gardens Test, which will begin next week, and the April 17 Delhi one-dayer were being considered the bright prospects for hosting Musharraf.

However, after the Prime Minister formally invited Musharraf, there was little follow-up action.

The invitation itself took a long time to come through because a section of the foreign ministry was not keen on responding to the President's public expression of interest to visit India during the Pakistan cricket team's tour. The ministry had sat as many as five days on what had been a foregone conclusion: that Musharraf would be invited. Manmohan Singh had to intervene finally and take the initiative to issue the invitation and make an announcement in Parliament.

Yesterday, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan and Indian high commissioner in Islamabad Shiv Shankar Menon ' both are from Kerala ' discussed the likely venue and Kochi cropped up.

This morning, Narayanan took up the matter with the Prime Minister and proposed the city for the friendly visit, the sources said.

Narayanan is learnt to have told Manmohan Singh that if Kochi is chosen, it will be an unusual venue for Musharraf, who is otherwise unlikely to get a chance to see the city ' known as Queen of Arabian Sea ' ever.

April 2 is a Saturday. If Musharraf so wishes, he can spend the weekend in Kochi and savour a slice of Kerala's celebrated tourist hot spots.

Unless there is a last-minute rethink or a logistics glitch, the southern city should be finalised.

With the Prime Minister asking Natwar Singh to look into the proposal, the foreign ministry is expected to work out the modalities fast.

Once the itinerary is drawn up, it has to be finalised in consultation with Pakistan.

Menon had on Thursday handed over the Indian invitation to Pakistan's information minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, who handed it over to Musharraf yesterday.

Accepting India's invitation, Pakistan had said that only after going through the President's schedule 'will we be able to confirm which match he will watch'.

If Musharraf eventually endorses the southern city plan, it should also gladden the hearts of his newfound friends in the Left.

When Left leaders Harkishen Singh Surjeet and A.B. Bardhan had gone to Pakistan recently, they had suggested that the President should visit Calcutta to see a match.

Kochi may not have the same red aura as the capital of Left-ruled Bengal, but it is one of the most prominent cities of Kerala, the communists' other citadel in the country.

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