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Power pack joins HT Leadership Initiative for S Asian peace

A meeting of the best and the brightest kickstarted the first HT Leadership Initiative.

india Updated: Dec 13, 2003 10:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent

A meeting of the best and the brightest kickstarted the first Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative in New Delhi on Friday.

Setting to rest the notion that leadership issues are generally dominated by men, it was the high-profile women who were present who seemed to attract the most attention. Three women — former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Congress president Sonia Gandhi — were a study in colour and confidence in a room otherwise dominated by men in grey suits.

Bhutto, resplendent in a purple salwar-kameez, her head covered in her trademark off-white dupatta, displayed absolutely no sign of her ongoing political troubles. She sat impassively next to Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia through some pretty harsh words for Pakistan from Richard Haass, a key adviser to the George Bush administration.

Albright, dressed in an emerald green suit, was present to discuss the theme of the two-day conference organised by the Hindustan Times.

Sonia Gandhi easily dominated the proceedings. Wearing a rich maroon silk sari, she seemed to have overcome the initial shock of her party's debacle in the recent polls and came looking relaxed and ready to answer questions — even uncomfortable ones relating to Ajit Jogi —after her presentation.

An equally colourful entrance was made by Asfandyar Wali Khan, the president of the Awami National Party and a sitting senator of Pakistan. He was accompanied by an entourage of his party members. Khan, who made a highly emotional speech, is the grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, better known as Frontier Gandhi.

Tucked under his arm were two copies of former foreign secretary JN Dixit’s book on Afghanistan — brought along to be autographed by the author.

The invited audience included at least four former foreign secretaries: Dixit himself, SK Singh, MK Rasgotra and the recently retired Kanwal Sibal. The diplomatic community was represented by Pakistani High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan, Sri Lankan High Commissioner Mangala Moonasinghe and the ambassadors and representatives of Israel, South Africa, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Australia and Tunisia.

Also present were the highly respected Abid Hussain and parliamentarians K Natwar Singh, Sitaram Yechury and Amar Singh. I&B Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad also attended.

Union home secretary N Gopalaswamy and the Centre's Kashmir interlocutor NN Vohra were present during the Kashmir session. Bhutto did not attend the session in order to make it to Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani's house for lunch. She also met one-on-one with Sonia Gandhi. Albright, on the other hand, took time out to have tea with Vajpayee.

Business was represented almost entirely by men: Usha Rectifier's Vinay Rai, Apollo Tyres' Onkar Kanwar and Coca-Cola's Sanjiv Gupta, among others.

Saturday's session, to be opened by Bhutto and concluded by Albright, promises to be equally exciting. In between these two women-led performances, Planning Commission member NK Singh, former Reserve Bank governor Bimal Jalan, Reliance vice-chairman Anil Ambani and Hindustan Lever chairman MS 'Vindi' Banga will put their heads together to talk on leveraging peace for profit.

First Published: Dec 13, 2003 01:04 IST