Patil yet again defends her foreign tours

On board special aircraft: President Pratibha Patil yet again came out with a strong defence of her foreign tours, saying she was forced to go public on the issue despite government clarifications.

"Some things were explained in the briefing of the External Affairs Ministry. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma also said that it was very unfortunate to raise controversy over the President`s visits. Some things were such that I needed to clear them…." Patil told reporters on Monday night while returning from her nine- day tour of South Africa and Seychelles, her last foreign visit as President. Patil retires on July 25.

She was asked whether she felt that the government failed to be sufficiently pro-active to protect her by forcefully replying to the criticism of her foreign tours.

Patil`s remarks came close on the heels of an interview to a TV channel to put her side of the story. The interview appeared unusual as it was given during her visit of South Africa and to a channel that had no representative in the media team accompanying her during the tour.

The media accompanying her was unaware of the interaction till it was shown by the TV channel. Her interview followed a status report put out by Rashtrapati Bhavan on the "landmark" initiative of the President of taking business delegations in her tours to promote economic diplomacy.

Tours of Patil, who became the President in 2007, had become a subject matter of controversy following revelations that Rs 200 crore was spent on her dozen-odd tours. Taking the credit for starting the practice of taking business delegations, Patil said that in an interdependent world, economic diplomacy was becoming more and more important.

She said that it was necessary to take such business delegations to boost economic development and employment. Citing the importance of such a venture, she said that her South African counterpart Jacob Zuma at the just-concluded India-South Africa business meeting emphasised that "we stand ready to provide whatever support is needed to make doing business easy in our respective countries."

She said it is the "biggest assurance" any business community could have and such an assurance was in mutual benefit. The President being accompanied by a senior minister gives the much needed weight to such interactions, she said.

Detailing the strengths of India and the African countries she visited, the President said that mutual cooperation being envisaged in diverse fields like gasification technology, IT, computer education, pharmaceuticals and other areas with South Africa and Seychelles would "go a long way" to promote the interests of the country.

"As has been the practice in my overseas visits all these years, strong business delegations accompanied me to Seychelles and South Africa. Senior ministers were present in the India-Seychelles Business Forum meeting in Victoria while President Zuma himself attended the India-South Africa Business Forum meeting in Pretoria. I am particularly grateful to both President James Alex Michel (of Seychelles) and President Zuma for making it possible to be present at all my important engagements," she said in a statement to the media on conclusion of her visit.

The President spoke at length about the visits she made to heritage sites in South Africa associated with Mahatma Gandhi including the Phoenix Settlement.