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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to stay away from the media on his return journey from the Association of South East Nations (Asean) summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, ahead of what is likely to be a stormy Parliament session.
The PM, who was expected to brief the press this evening on the Asean-India summit, the East Asia Summit and the many bilateral dialogues he has had with world leaders, including the heads of government of China and Japan during the past three days, was said to be “not too well”. The PM had a couple of minutes of a “pull away” meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Retreat session on the East Asia Summit, of which global powers like the US, Japan and China, among others, are members. The East Asia Summit and the Asean-India meet were being held alongside the main Asean deliberations. The summit concluded on Tuesday.
Singh and Obama exchanged pleasantries, perhaps during a coffee break, a source said. There was no structured meeting but Obama is learnt to have told Singh, “India is part of the big plan we have.” Singh, meeting Obama for the first time after his re-election, congratulated him. The two had met briefly at last night’s gala dinner hosted for the world leaders, too. This was the first time a US president was visiting Cambodia, thereby stepping up the engagement of the Western world with Asia and more particularly East Asia. India is already focused on a “look east” policy.
National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon met his American counterpart, Tom Donilon, for about 90 minutes in the Cambodian capital on Tuesday on strategic issues but the government did not elaborate on details of the meeting.
With the Opposition parties pressing for voting in Parliament on the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector, the PM might have decided not to face questions from the media, The PM, who held bilateral talks with six countries’ heads in the past three days, did not interact with the media through the visit. But, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma, part of the official delegation, was put on the job once again to take questions mid-flight, on issues related to Asean or any other .
He again put up a brave front on the FDI issue, saying, “Let them (Opposition) bring the matter to Parliament…The government is prepared for it.” Adding, “We will effectively answer our opponents.” Specifically on the ruling coalition’s DMK constituent opposing FDI in multi-brand retail, the minister said, “DMK is a valuable ally. We will convince them and ensure their concerns are put at rest.”
On the criticism that FDI in the sector would adversely impact the country,Sharma asked, “Will just the colour of the money (coming in) hurt the Indian economy?”