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In Dar-es-Salaam and Rome

Print edition : Oct 04, 1997

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T+T-

THERE is a point to making Dar-es-Salaam the first capital Prime Minister Gujral will visit outside South Asia. Tanzania's relations with India have been traditionally very close, with the African country unreservedly supporting India on every political, economic, regional and international issue of consequence, including Jammu and Kashmir. However, Gujral is aware that the level of high-level political contact between India and Tanzania has been minimal in the recent period. He wants to upgrade and revitalise the quality of the relationship.

With Tanzania's old development path failing, the country is on a new and untried path. In most objective assessments, the quality of its future will depend on its handling of five issues: "dealing with refugees from Burundi and Rwanda, making progress in economic reform, battling a culture of corruption, expanding multiparty politics to more meaningful democratic government, and overcoming the threat of communal conflict." Right now, Tanzania faces a serious food crisis and is urgently seeking foodgrain imports, and bilateral and international assistance, if its people are not to starve.

President Benjamin Mkapa, an articulate and suave leader, is everywhere during the day-and-a-half Gujral visit. He is accessible to the Indian journalists and speaks wanly and ironically about pervasive political corruption and difficulties in nailing it down - a challenge easily recognisable in India. The Indian Prime Minister announces some modest assistance - 1,000 tonnes of rice, some computers and scholarships and so forth. When accompanying journalistic opinion favours something more substantial, Gujral promises to come up with further contributions: "whatever they need".

Rome is quite a different kettle of fish. The Indian Prime Minister and his wife call on the Pope and reminisce warmly on the qualities of Mother Teresa and the impressive and moving phenomenon of Hindu-majority India turning out in overwhelming numbers to pay tribute to a Christian missionary who was the embodiment of compassion and charity. Gujral also meets the Italian Prime Minister and President and Finance Minister Chidambaram has some useful exchanges on economic and business matters, including the question of the likely implications of the Euro for bilateral trade. For the accompanying journalists, the part day halt in Rome is chiefly an opportunity to visit some of its wonders and tourist spots.

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