Claire Trevett on politics
Claire Trevett is a Herald political writer

Claire Trevett: New Zealand knocks, and India is listening


"In India three things are compulsory," Hari the taxi driver says as his car weaves its way through the New Delhi traffic. "Good brakes, a good horn and good luck."

At the arts and crafts market, salesman Arif also has some lessons on India. He is trying on every trick in his arsenal. He sweeps scarves, quilts and saris out at speed, swearing that every colour makes a woman beautiful. As a last measure, he offers a hot date and almost sobs when it is declined.

The flattery bears dividends.

Prime Minister John Key too has been in India trying out his own sales patter.

The results of the invite for a date - in this case a free trade agreement - are not likely to be as immediately decided as Arif's. Nonetheless, his efforts to hook the New Zealand tuktuk onto the back of the juggernaut of India are bearing fruits.

India rolled out the red carpet - the motorcades, the five-star hotels, the astonishing access to the who's who of Indian politics - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the chair of the governing Congress Party Sonia Gandhi, the high level ministers, the President.

He also met with Rahul Gandhi - son of Sonia Gandhi - touted by many as the man most likely to succeed the 78-year-old Singh within the next few years.

Given the relative sizes of the countries it was akin to New Zealand blocking Auckland's traffic off for a motorcade for the unofficial mayor of Kawau Island.

As Mr Key said, such attentions should not be underestimated, especially when so many others are also knocking on India's door.

Between the official meetings, Key was also out peddling New Zealand to India. He met with investors, and he used cricket and Bollywood to attract attention working on the obvious marketing philosophy of 'when in Rome.'

Mr Key did not close his eyes to India's problems, but nor did he dwell upon them. He raised nuclear disarmament with Dr Singh, he saw the obvious poverty of many of its people after his motorcade swept past the slums scattered about Mumbai. The threat of terrorism remains real in India, and Key spent his last night at the Taj Mahal Palace - the site of the 2008 Mumbai bombings. His very last official engagement after dinner with the local governor was to sign the condolence book which sits in the hotel.

However, Mr Key left feeling quite rightfully smug about what his three-day visit had achieved in India.

His reward came not only in a stronger expression of support for a free trade agreement than he had expected. It also came in one sentence from Dr Singh thanking Key for "his important leadership in forging closer links with India. This is a sentiment that I fully reciprocate."

The other reward was at a more subtle level - in the Indian chief executives at business functions, the taxi drivers, the hotel porters, the shopkeepers who all, upon hearing the name New Zealand, knew that Mr Key had played cricket in New Delhi and stood with two Bollywood stars.

So Mr Key showed he too had learned Hari's lessons - blow your horn and a gap may well open up in the traffic.

- NZ Herald

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