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March 24, 2000
CEOs grapple to shake Clinton's hand
Amberish K Diwanji in Hyderabad
If on Wednesday the members of Parliament broke protocol by mobbing Bill Clinton, on Thursday it was the turn of venerable members of the corporate world to do an encore.
The very captains of business, who sneer at their 'uncouth cousins' in Parliament, jumped chairs, pushed aside the weak and the timid, stamped toes, elbowed, and shoved their way to shake hands with the 'world's most powerful man'.
The United States President had just finished his first business address in Hyderabad and come down the podium to shake hands with a few people.
To the utter dismay of his security staff -- who thought the men in suits and fancy ties would behave better than the MPs in khadi did -- all hell broke lose as the 'businessmen and women' rushed to shake hands with Clinton.
The delicately arranged chairs were thrown into disarray, there was a stamped, and Clinton was mobbed in a manner that Shahrukh Khan or Tendulkar would have envied.
Those who shook hands with Clinton looked as pleased as the cat that just ate the cream! "I shook hands with him because he is the world's greatest leader," explained one unabashed businessman. Did he get in a word? The reply is a glazed and contended look.
Another abashed industrialist spoke differently. "I am only standing here. If he comes my way, I'll just shake hands. I am not going out of my way to shake hands with him."
Unluckily for him, Clinton took another direction to get away from the mob and make his exit, much to the relief of the security personnel and organisers.
Confederation of Indian Industry president Rahul Bajaj looked at the milling crowds, recalled Parliament, and remarked, "Guess, it just shows that we are all one!" Amen.
The programme itself went off well, despite gaping loopholes in the organisation. Put together by the CII, the Andhra Pradesh government, and the American Chamber of Commerce in India, it was to be Bill Clinton's first speech on business and economics.
Over 1,700 people turned up, as early as four hours ahead of Clinton's scheduled time of arrival. Virtually all the big names of the Indian industry -- comprising the old and the new economies -- were present in strength as they waited for the US President to speak.
Present from the bricks and mortar world were Tata group's chairman Ratan Tata, Indian Hotels and Tata Tea managing director R K Krishna Kumar, Tata groups director Gopalakrishnan, Mahindra and Mahindra managing director Anand Mahindra and of course Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul.
From the new economy - the IT world - were present the world's third richest man and Wipro chairman Azim Premji, Infosys chief Narayana Murthy, and Satyam chief B Ramalinga Raju.
The speeches were amazing. Before their excellencies arrived, copies of Naidu's speech were distributed to the media. But to the amazement of all, not the least Bill Clinton, Naidu's did not read out his speech from paper, but from slides that were being shown on the screen.
The slides showed figures and key points, from which Naidu kept taking his reference. There was even a audio-visual bit when a dancer was shown to highlight the borderless world!
Clearly Clinton was impressed by the presentation of Andhra Pradesh's CEO. In his speech he said he wished he too had brought slides along with him!
Then he spoke passionately about removing poverty, in India and even in the US. He warned that business was not only about "higher profits but a higher purpose", a line that should have warmed the cockles of the left parties carried on their protest marches and demonstrations in the Andhra Pradesh capital.
It certainly affected some of the business captains. Rahul Bajaj and R K Krishna Kumar echoed their assent. "Profits can never the only aim, it is just one of the many aims of business," said Rahul.
"Clinton is right. The final purpose is to alleviate poverty, not just make profits," seconded R K Krishna Kumar.
However, the sour note was the complete absence of a compere or master of ceremonies. After Rahul Bajaj gave the introductory speech, he invited the Andhra Pradesh chief minister. When the latter finished his speech and returned to his chair, there was no one to invite the next speaker. Naidu hastily got up and invited Satyam chairman Ramalinga Raju.
And Raju also walked away after his speech only to come rushing back to invite Clinton to make a speech.
Later, CII officials could be heard blaming the Andhra Pradesh government for not allowing a master of ceremonies for the show.
CII officials also complained that in the open makeshift hall, the heat for the speakers on the podium under the arc lights was terrible. "If I was feeling hot, how must the President have felt?" remarked one.
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