Top Heads of State Roll in to India

NEW DELHI, Dec 13(TOI): It was the fresh-faced, new occupant of 10, Downing Street, that set the ball rolling. Among David Cameron's first decisions as British PM was an announcement that he would take charge of UK-India relations and promptly set off with a planeload of businessmen and cabinet ministers on a discovery of India. It was a canny move.

Looking at India's heavily loaded diplomatic calendar, Cameron was a trailblazer of sorts. As the year rolls to a close, India's diplomats are busy rolling out the red carpet for the P-5. As a French diplomat observed, we haven't found another instance where all the P-5 nations have visited one country within a space of six months.

Of course, the biggie was the visit of US President Barack Obama, who did his own little discovery of India (but reserved the Taj Mahal for a later sojourn) and found that US presidents facing political pressures at home could be assured of a fun-filled week in India.

In January, the President of Iceland, Dr Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, created a political storm back in Reykjavik over the financial crisis sparked by I-Save, and disappeared to India for a week's state visit, stunning the Icelandics.

For French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also faces domestic crises, the romance of the Taj and promise of the role of global statesman brought him on a four-city tour of India. He will be followed this week by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who will be on a dual mission — to show that China is actually trying to improve relations with India, and to reaffirm that Pakistan remains its topnotch ally.

And next week, it will be the turn of the annual summit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Russian presidents do an annual routine with India — there is a strong comfort factor there but every year they search for the same thing, how to make themselves more relevant in India beyond the defence sector. For all these heads of state visits, there's been a common thread — at least $20 billion of business deals with India Inc, which generates jobs back home, a strong civil society outreach (a stay at Taj Mahal hotel, Mumbai, is positively de rigueur) — and let's not forget the culture.

Quite apart from the P-5 though, India's diplomatic engagement this year has concentrated on two regions, Asia and Africa.


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