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At NYSE, Manmohan holds talks with corporate chiefs

Sridhar Krishnaswami

New York , Sept. 23

THE Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had a wide ranging luncheon discussion at the New York Stock Exchange with top CEOs drawn largely from the media and financial sectors.

Questions are said to have ranged from rural India, rural economy to infrastructure policy; relations between India and Pakistan; Dr Singh's expectations of his meeting with the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, on Friday and India's perceptions of China, to name a few.

The discussions were "not narrowly focussed," remarked a senior Indian official making the point that Dr Singh responded at length and that his remarks were "well received."

One of the things that the Indian leader is said to have emphasised is that given the present nature of a coalition Government in New Delhi, there has to be consensus on policies which is a good thing in itself because consensus will make reforms "more durable".

Specific details of the interaction are not available for the reason that the assembled CEOs wished to interact with the Prime Minister in a closed-door session where there could be frank and free exchange of ideas and views.

But an official in the Prime Minister's delegation came out with one or two observations of Dr Singh.

On the subject of India's perceptions of China, Dr Singh is said to have made the point that the world is "large enough to accommodate a rising China and a rising India."

After brief opening remarks at the NYSE and the luncheon session, Dr Singh had a walkabout on the trading floor where he received several rounds of applause from traders.

What is being emphasised repeatedly here is that this is the first-ever visit of an Indian Prime Minister to the NYSE where its President offered to host a lunch for Dr Singh which was confined to only the Number One in the corporate group.

Maintaining that this was a "major beginning," officials say that this is a "real message" to Corporate America.

Asked to comment on why there was no presence of top executives from infrastructure corporations, an official said that the Prime Minister was not on a "sales pitch"; rather that he wanted to use the opportunity to give the message that India is keen on engaging the world economic community. "Who is there or who is not there is not important; the message is what is important," the official remarked.

Further it is being pointed out that the combined assets of the corporations whose Number One attended the NYSE luncheon with Dr Singh is around $1 trillion or more.

In his opening public remarks at the NYSE, Dr Singh traced the history of reforms since 1991 and essentially made the point that India's future lies in the integration with the global economy. The Prime Minister made the point that the India has always been a free economy, only that it was "shackled" by a "lot of bureaucratic controls".

But Dr Singh declared that bureaucracy "is like a horse. You can take it in any direction. It all depends on where you want to take it and it is entirely on the quality of the jockey."

On economic relations between India and the US, the Prime Minister remarked that the two countries have "only scratched the surface"; it is moving in the right direction but that the best is yet to come.

Dr Singh stressed that India did not want to "minimise" the challenges in areas like infrastructure, but that there is the determination to go forward. Investments in infrastructure are "not only a challenge but also an opportunity", the Prime Minister remarked. India, it was pointed out, needed some $150 billion of investment in infrastructure, which was passed off of a "conservative estimate."

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