Venkat Raman –
Presidents of India do not enjoy executive powers and almost always voice the policies of the government of the day. Their speeches in India and overseas are ‘agreed upon’ by the Prime Minister and the Federal Cabinet.
The position of Pranab Mukherjee, 13th President of the Republic of India is no different. However, he has endeared himself with world leaders, politicians and people, largely due to his affable manners and willingness to mix freely with people.
His three-day visit to New Zealand from April 30 to May 2, marked a number of meetings, lunches and dinners, attended by a large number of people of Indian origin.
India’s global ambitions
Of these, his speeches at the banquet hosted in his honour by Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae at the Government House in Auckland on April 30 and the meetings of the India New Zealand Business Council and the Reception hosted by India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand Sanjiv Kohli were of significance.
In each of these, he expressed the growing desire of India to participate and exercise influence at the global and regional levels.
These included Delhi’s long-cherished desire of securing the Permanent Membership to the UN Security Council and Membership to the Pacific Islands Forum.
His speeches were carefully worded and reflected the non-aggressive and yet well-founded policies of the Indian government and its increasing shift towards global politics and the economic prowess.
Mr Mukherjee did not miss any opportunity to drive home the fact that the Indian economy remains robust with growth rates expected to average at 8% over the next few years. The burgeoning middle class has enormous purchasing power and high propensity to spend, he said, whetting the appetite of those keen on doing business with India but hesitate in view of the complexity and diversity of the country.
References to the stalled ‘Free Trade Agreement’ (FTA) were limited to rhetoric and the absence of any senior minister or official in his delegation was indicative that the Pact was not imminent.
However, he pulled his punches on occasions.
Speaking at the State Banquet, he acknowledged the impressive progress made by New Zealand in dairy farming, food processing, clean energy and water, disaster management and asked the New Zealand government to participate in the ‘Make in India’ Programme.
“India stands ready to shoulder greater responsibilities in the international arena,” he said, and made subtle reference to the UN Security Council and New Zealand’s increasing role.
There was no indication of any discussion on India’s bid; Indian Presidents always stop short of overt references to sensitive issues.
Pacific Islands Forum
Speaking at the INZBC meeting jointly hosted by the Indian High Commission at Langham Hotel on May 1, Mr Mukherjee went as far as expressing India’s interest in ‘developing the ‘Pacific Islands Forum.’
“The Pacific Island countries are small but are doing their best to promote the welfare of their people, apart from growing their economies. Poverty and poor quality education are two areas in which we would like to work closely with the respective governments and peoples,” he said.
India New Zealand Business Council President Robert Barker and Treasurer Bhav Dhillon presenting a memento to Pranab Mukherjee watched by Indian High Commissioner Sanjiv Kohli at Langham Hotel on May 1.