Hillary hopes to tame the Kolkata shrew
Hillary Clinton will try to achieve what Manmohan Singh could not — persuade Mamata Banerjee to allow foreign direct investment in retail and to reach a consensus with Bangladesh over sharing of the Teesta waters.
The unexpected meeting between the two follows the US secretary of state's visit to Beijing and Dhaka. Clinton will meet the "dynamic" and "influential" chief minister of West Bengal at the Writers' Buildings in Kolkata.
After meeting Banerjee, she will fly to New Delhi to meet Singh, then Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and at the end, external affairs minister SM Krishna. Officials in the know say there is no point trying to speculate why Clinton started her trip from Kolkata.
Nevertheless, political experts feel the meeting — the first such by any US secretary of state — is important in connection with allowing FDI in retail. The mercurial Trinamool chief has been vocal in the past about her strong reservations against allowing retailers such as WalMart to set shop in the country.
The Indian government had a loss of face in September 2011 when Banerjee, at the last minute, pulled out of the PM's entourage to Bangladesh over the sharing of the Teesta waters. Though Singh and Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina discussed several strategic issues and signed an agreement over the Indo-Bangla land border, he could not give any commitment about the water sharing. Clinton is expected to push for it, along with FDI in retail.
India and Bangladesh will hold the first joint consultative commission meeting on "trade, connectivity, power, water resources, security, and border management among others" in New Delhi on Monday.
Clinton's talks in the national capital will cover "all bilateral issues", including oil imports from Iran. The US has been urging India and other countries to slash oil imports aimed at stepping up pressure on Iran to comply with international demands over its nuclear programme. India, which imports 80% of its crude oil and relies on Tehran for 12% of those imports, has said it needed to continue to buy Iranian oil to meet its domestic requirements.
An official said her visit to the country "reflects the depth of ties and the level of comfort that exists between India and the US". Both countries will focus largely on "the range of bilateral ties" that would be discussed at the June 13 India-US strategic dialogue in Washington.
After arriving from Bangladesh with a large delegation on Sunday afternoon, Clinton attended a cultural programme at the Indian council of Cultural relations and visited the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. She also met victims of human trafficking and had a brief discussion with a couple of NGOs involved in helping them.
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