India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Saint Petersburg's airport ahead of the G20 Summit. (AFP Photo)
N Madhavan, senior associate editor, is travelling with the Indian delegation to St Petersburg. In his latest diary post, he takes a peek at the prime minister's working style and goes roaming in the beautiful Russian city.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the G20 summit and other meetings were also lined up aside from the formal sessions. But the workaholic he is, he has carried 16 boxes full of files to peruse and clear while on the trip. The Air India Boeing 747, a sturdy old workhorse jet for successive PMs, houses a large enough cabin for him to work away, and his aides stand testimony to his old-world style of looking for details. You could say he is famous for silence because he loves to read and write. Says an aide: "He even likes to check for mistakes in messages that routinely go out in his name."
City of 42 islands
A dozen BMWs and Audis, shining black in colour, bring us to the present as we step out of St Petersburg's Hermitage museum, which is loaded with art and artefacts of European art and Russian history, and--as local citizens will tell you tirelessly--is more magnificent than the Louvre in Paris. Rembrandt, Picasso and Da Vinci originals are part of the extensive repertoire. Otherwise, the city is called the Venice of the North in Europe, with its criss-cross canals and a mish-mash of various types of European architectural styles. The shiny golden spires and church domes, many of them shaped like onions, considered a symbol of feudal Russian vanity, are quintessentially local.
And the glittering cars and securitymen are a reminder that the city of 5 million people with the deepest metro railway in the world is hosting the G-20 summit.
St Petersburg is made up of 42 islands, and the leaders are meeting in a palace in one of them, Strelna. As if the security cordon was not enough, it takes a long ferry ride for most of the lesser mortals to get there as swirling waters keep the leaders in splendid solitude.
G20: all noise, no substance?
The G20 is motley, comprising not just the well-known G7 advanced economies and the BRICS 5 but also Mexico, Turkey, South Korea, Argentina and South Korea and the European Union as a group. The first summit was held in Washington in November 2008, months after the Wall Street crisis, whose impact is now felt in India as the rupee languishes as a consequence of the US printing cash to rescue its economy from the excesses of its rogue bankers.
Now, cynics still say all the G20 makes is right noises, but it is clear that coordinated financial regulation is necessary if protectionism in some form or the other has to be kept out in the march to globalisation. Tiny doses of protectionism, be in the US immigration bill that restricts work visas, or India's capital controls, keep coming out the global economy, reminding one of the Matrushka dolls of St Petersburg in which the smaller dolls come out of larger ones, identical in shape and looks but not size!
(This is a journalist's diary. The views expressed are personal.)