Travel-wary PM off on a packed global trot

NEW DELHI: For a person who dislikes travel, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has a packed schedule of global commitments for the rest of the year that kicked off with his visit to Bangladesh.Three weeks after he returns from what promises to be an uneventful visit to the UN General Assembly, Singh will be in Durban for the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) summit. Singh is particularly fond of IBSA, describing it as a group of like-minded democracies. BRICS, which gets greater play because of the presence of China, is usually described as a grouping envisioned by a creative investment banker from Goldman Sachs.

Singh could have made it to the CHOGM at a pinch, but then he would be travelling across the world to make it to Cannes for the G-20 summit, which is being hosted by French president Nicolas Sarkozy this year. The PM would rather be at G-20, which always benefits from his economic wisdom, and a place he feels much more at home as an economist. Vice president Hamid Ansari will represent India at the CHOGM in Australia in October.

The G-20 summit, scheduled for November 2-3 in Cannes will be a good opportunity for the PM to catch on some important conversations with important heads of government he will not be meeting in New York this week. Among them will be Sarkozy and British PM David Cameron, perhaps his Chinese counterpart and even US president Barack Obama who is returning to Washington from New York a day before Singh arrives there this week.

Soon after the global high table for global economics, the PM will spend four days in Maldives for the SAARC summit – between November 9 and 13. It will be an opportunity for Singh to meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Gilani. Gilani cancelled his trip to New York at the last minute because of the Sindh floods and, according to Pakistan media reports, the lack of a bilateral meeting with Obama.

Almost as soon as he touches down in Delhi from Male, the PM will be turning around to go east. The East Asia Summit (EAS) this year will be held in picturesque Bali, Indonesia. This forum is India’s best forum to establish its presence in east Asia, which is dominated by China. This year, the EAS will induct two new members, USA and Russia – the EAS was the only grouping which did not have the US. But China’s aggressive postures in the past couple of years led other south-east Asian countries to bring the US into the ambit of the EAS.

It was Singapore and Japan that were India’s staunch supporters in the EAS. Hence, the PM will be in Singapore en route. The PM’s visit is important in other ways – Singapore has been feeling somewhat neglected by India, given that it is India’s oldest and best friend in the region. The casualty will be Australia, which will not see a PM visit this year. The Australia relationship is full of promise, but needs strong political push. That will be put off until later.And then in mid-December, it will be time for Singh to put on his woollies for the annual India-Russia summit, which will be held in Moscow. – TOI