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|January 8, 1999||
Surprise! Dalai Lama steals the show from business bigwigs
Amberish K Diwanji in Jaipur
The Confederation of Indian Industry's much-hyped Partnership Summit struggled on the second day, after beginning with a bang yesterday, and appears set to end with a whimper tomorrow.
The second day was almost lost, almost because the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama saw a huge turnout and rounds of applause as he spoke from the heart about a sense of earning.
The Dalai Lama began his address by saying, ''I thank the CIA for inviting me!" And then quickly corrected himself to say ''CII''.
For the CII, it must have brought bitter cheer, because the Dalai Lama is not a businessman nor a politician nor an academic. The disappointment of the day was the absence of Union Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde on Day Two of the CII's three-day session.
''Hegde is ill with high fever (104 degree Fahrenheit reportedly),'' said a CII official. But what it clearly means is that so far, the CII has not had one minister or even minister of state or secretary from either the ministries of finance, industry or commerce to address the sessions. This at a business gathering!
Alas, even Union Defence Minister George Fernandes, who was supposed to be present on Day Three, has now informed that he will not be able to make it. Reason: a Cabinet meeting has been called and his attendance is imperative.
Of course, the CII officials still lack plausible explanations as to why both the prime minister and the finance minister failed to grace the occasion. The absence of top politicians had another telling effect. The top businessmen seemed to be disappearing faster than water in the Thar desert.
Only a few of India's top business captains were seen attending the post-lunch sessions that included a session on Rajasthan addressed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. The Dalai Lama and the Indo-US sessions were in the morning, and while the former saw a full house, the latter saw a decent turnout.
However, statements on how Indo-US relations will improve at the India-US session must be taken with a pinch of salt. The seniormost political authority at that session was Jim McDermott, US Congressman. The others were members of think-tanks or advisors, who no doubt are important, but still cannot claim to speak on behalf of the US legislature or executive.
Besides the Dalai Lama, the highlight of the day was the speech by Sir Leon Britain, commissioner, European Commission, via televideo. Sir Leon said that the Asian crisis was caused not by liberalisation but by imperfect markets. He pointed out that after the crisis occurred, the European Union had kept its market open to help the Asian economies cope with the crises.
Supachai Panitchpakdi, Thailand deputy prime minister and minister of commerce, who, believe it or not, will be speaking on all three days, also said that India must liberalise its market to achieve further growth, a theme he mentioned earlier. Speaking at the session on free trade, he said that more competition would lower the high interest rates in the money market and help Indian industry borrow at lower rates.
Earlier in the morning, Union urban affairs and employment minister, Ram Jethmalani, said that the Cabinet would be bringing in on ordinance to repeal the Urban Land Ceiling Act. The move is expected to substantially lower land prices and free land for housing projects. The government sees housing as a core sector in infrastructure.
Jethmalani insisted that India is not a federation of states but a union. "This means that new states can be created, merged or split. It also means that the states are not equal to the Centre in power and responsibility," he added.
The urban affairs minister said the need of the hour was to turn the India's labour force into a skilled workforce.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot welcomed investors to his state, considered among India's more backward states. He said his state was negotiating with the World Bank for funds to improve the road network and systems in the state.
That finally state governments are looking at tourism seriously became evident when both Gehlot and Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal spoke of their keenness to invest heavily in this sector to attract more tourists to their respective states.
Gehlot said Rajasthan needed Rs 20 billion for tourism infrastructure and it expected Rs 9 billion from the private sector. Dhumal said his government was identifying new areas of natural beauty to set up hotels and take the load off the Shimla and Kulu-Manali zones in the states.
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