Contrasting Leadership in India Visits

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Dear Editor,

The announcement by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley of a cricket academy, funded by Indian multinational conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd, local private investors, and the Government, on the site originally designated for Pan Trinbago’s headquarters by Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, represents bittersweet progress. This development highlights the stark contrasts between effective international diplomacy and missed opportunities.

Historically, the Pan Trinbago headquarters project, with an estimated completion cost of $63 million, was raised in Cabinet but abandoned for over two decades. The Kamla-led Cabinet failed to prioritise this vision, with an ethnic agenda overshadowing practical investments. In stark contrast, Prime Minister Rowley’s strategic engagement with Asia’s wealthiest industrialist has secured a significant project, reminiscent of Lakshmi Mittal’s 1989 ISPATT acquisition, which brought substantial Indian investment to Trinidad and Tobago.

As Minister of Transport I was a first-hand eye-witness to Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s state visit to India in January 2012 which was presented as a significant diplomatic endeavor in reality it was an ego trip paid for by the taxpayers. There was a signed joint statement that highlighted a bilateral air services agreement and discussions on economic cooperation facilitated by the Associate Chamber of India, the Confederation of Indian Industries, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. However, despite these agreements, tangible benefits remain elusive. As of today, the bilateral air services agreement has not materialised into actual flights or enhanced connectivity.

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Moreover, the primary outcome of Persad-Bissessar’s visit seemed more ceremonial and to feed the insatiable ego of the Prime Minister than anything substantial. She was honoured at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Jaipur, and recognised for her contributions as a member of the East Indian diaspora. This honour, while symbolically significant, did not translate into concrete economic or diplomatic gains for Trinidad and Tobago. Media reports from the time indicate that Persad-Bissessar promised a full report on the trip, emphasising transparency and good governance, but did not address the lack of immediate benefits.

In contrast, Prime Minister Rowley’s recent visit to India has yielded immediate and tangible outcomes. The establishment of a cricket academy, with significant investment from Reliance Industries Ltd, is a concrete example of successful diplomacy resulting in direct benefits. This project not only brings financial investment but also promotes sports and cultural ties between the two nations. Rowley’s ability to attract such high-level investment underscores a proactive and results-oriented approach to international relations.

The comparison between Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s 2012 visit and Keith Rowley’s 2024 visit underscores the difference in diplomatic effectiveness. The important role of an effective High Commissioner in Delhi, HE Roger Gopaul no doubt played an important role in the visit.

While Persad-Bissessar’s trip was marked by ceremonial recognition and unfulfilled agreements, Rowley’s visit has resulted in immediate, substantial investment. This contrast highlights the importance of strategic, result-oriented diplomacy over symbolic gestures. Rowley’s success demonstrates a commitment to practical and inclusive development, moving beyond ethnic-driven agendas to achieve national progress.

Dr Devant Maharaj, PhD, MBA

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