November 23, 2009

Luncheon with the Prime Minister of India today

I am in Washington DC currently to be part of the state visit of the Prime Minister (PM) of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The stature of "state visits" is normally reserved for heads of states, which technically is not the case with the Prime Minister of India. That status constitutionally belongs to the President of India, which however is a nominated position and acts only as a nominal head of the country. The PM on the other hand is the elected leader of the party with majority in the Indian parliament, and is the political head of the country for all practical purposes. President Obama is therefore providing the stature of a full-fledged state visit to Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit, and he will have the honor to attend the first state dinner of Obama's Presidency tomorrow.

Today I attended the luncheon with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The luncheon, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in coordination with the U.S.-India Business Council, is the only agenda item in the PM's itinerary reserved for a dialogue with the business community of the two countries. Dr. Manmohan Singh, a noted economist and probably the most qualified PM ever in the Indian history, was the chief architect of India's economic reforms that started in 1991, and is credited with turning around the economic fortunes of the world's biggest democracy. India has now become one of the fastest growing major economies in the world. He shared his vision of the U.S.-India business partnership and gave a clear signal that India Inc. is open for business and encouraged foreign investment in almost all major sectors of the country's economy.

The PM and his Congress party gained a comfortable majority during the national election in India this summer, and has therefore received the necessary public mandate to continue economic liberalization without relying on any external political partners, which frustratingly had been the case earlier during his previous term.

It was an honor to be part of the select group of business professionals who were invited to represent the interest of the business community of both the countries at the famous International Hall of Flags in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington DC. Our group included U.S. government officials, senior business executives and CEOs of prominent firms from both the countries including Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Dave Cote (Honeywell), Paul Jacobs (Qualcomm), Ellen Kullman (DuPont), Terry McGraw (McGraw-Hill Companies), Rata Tata (Tata Group), Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries), Sunil Bharti Mittal (Bharti Group, the largest mobile carrier in India), Chanda Kochar (ICICI bank, the largest private sector bank in India), O.P. Bhatt (State Bank of India), etc.

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